World News

China urges military cooperation ahead of Obama visit

BEIJING (Reuters) - China urged more contact with the U.S military on Friday while President Hu Jintao said his nation’s plans for space were peaceful, striking a conciliatory tone ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit.

Astronaut Zhai Zhigang of China holds the national flag after exiting the Shenzhou VII space craft in this September 27, 2008 video grab. China supports the peaceful exploration and use of space, President Hu Jintao said. REUTERS/CCTV via Reuters TV.

Improving bilateral military ties would help the overall relationship between the two big powers, He Yafei, China’s vice foreign minister, told a news conference held in advance of Obama’s visit to China from Nov. 15 to 18.

“I think that both sides want to promote exchanges and contacts between the two countries’ militaries, and especially to enhance strategic mutual confidence,” He told reporters.

“This includes dialogue between (the) two countries’ military authorities, exchanges and mutual visits, and other cooperation.”

The reassuring words added to signs both powers seek to ease military tensions after a period of friction.

China’s military spending, even after two decades of double-digit growth, is only about one-sixth of U.S. outlays. But the Pentagon worries it knows too little about China’s intentions and sees the People’s Liberation Army building capabilities that exceed Beijing’s assertions its military modernization is purely defensive.

Obama was in office less than two months when Chinese vessels jostled with a U.S. surveillance ship in waters off the Chinese coast, adding to tensions.

But President Hu told foreign air force delegations on Friday that China was committed to peaceful development, the official Xinhua New Agency said, days after a top air force official sparked concerns with talk of a “Great Wall of steel in the blue sky”.

Chinese air force commander Xu Qiliang had told the official Xinhua news agency competition between military forces was naturally “shifting to space”, and the strong trend could not be reversed.

“China will unswervingly uphold a national defense policy that is defensive in nature, and will never seek military expansion and an arms race, and will never constitute military threat to any other country,” Hu was quoted as saying.

More than 30 delegations are in Beijing for a military forum to mark the 60th founding anniversary of China’s air force, which Xinhua said is aimed at promoting exchanges and building trust.

Beijing curtailed contacts with the U.S. military to show its anger over U.S. military sales to Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing says is an illegitimate breakaway.

China has shown new interest in military ties following talks in Beijing in June and an October U.S. tour by General Xu Caihou, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission.

Editing by Ken Wills and Jerry Norton