Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter met with General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission and one Beijing’s top military officials, at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. to discuss concrete military-to-military cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
General Fan is the most senior Chinese military leader to visit Washington since Chinese President Xi Jinping took over the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Fan directly reports to Xi, the only person outranking the general in the Central Military Commission.
According to DoD News, land reclamation by China and other rival claimants in the South China Sea was one of the principal topics of discussion, with both sides sticking to their positions. Carter once more stated that the United States wants China and all other countries to stop building islands and end the militarization of disputed territories.
“Secretary Carter reiterated U.S. concerns on the South China Sea, and called on China and all claimants to implement a lasting halt on land reclamation, cease further militarization, and pursue a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes in accordance with international law,” a Pentagon statement said.
China’s official press agency, Xinhua, reports that Fan reiterated China’s right to establish military facilities on its sovereign territories, downplaying the dispute. The United States should “take the higher ground to look into the far future by paying more attention to other, more important regional and international issues,” the article paraphrased Fan as saying.
Shi Yinhong, director of the Center of U.S. Studies at Renmin University in China, notes on China Military Online that the current bilateral relationship between both countries is “not so good.” He adds: “”There is little possibility for them to make any tangible concession, but both sides are willing to control the situation including avoid collision of military planes and ships.”
Other issues discussed included included cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster response, peacekeeping, military medicine, counter-piracy, regional security, and broader maritime security issues. Both sides pledged to reach a consensus on the air-to-air annex to the Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters Memorandum of Understanding by September of this year.
Fan expressed his hopes for a new type of military-to-military relationship based on “mutual trust, cooperation, non-conflict and sustainability.” Today, the Chinese general and General Ray Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, will witness the signing of the U.S.-China Army-to-Army Dialogue Mechanism. “This framework will open a new channel for leaders in our two armies to raise and discuss issues of mutual concern such as humanitarian assistance and disaster response practices,” according to a Pentagon statement.
Interestingly, unlike in previous years, Carter and Fan did not hold a joint press conference yesterday. “The Chinese did request that there not be a lot of media attention around this trip,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said, according to AFP.
Fan’s week-long U.S. trip also included a visit to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and various U.S. military bases in California and Texas. He met with U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice at the White House this morning and will also meet senior officials at the U.S. State Department before departing Washington.