US Defense Secretary Robert Gates toured China's nuclear command center before leaving for Japan. He said that his four-day visit had been "very successful." Next week, Chinese President Hu Jintao heads to Washington.
Gates with Hu Jintao prior to their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
Almost a year ago, China suspended military contact with the US because of Washington's deliveries of arms to democratic Taiwan, which Beijing considers as a breakaway province.
The two sides have since been trying to find a balance. On Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates held talks with China's leadership, including with President Hu Jintao, who is also the head of the powerful military commission.
On Monday, Gates had already met China's defense minister, Liang Guanglie, as well as other members of the top military brass.
Robert Gates has been received in China with great pomp
"We are in strong agreement that in order to reduce the chances of miscommunication, misunderstanding or miscalculation, it is important that our military-to-military ties are solid, consistent and not subject to shifting political winds," Gates told reporters afterwards.
Dialogue about combating piracy and terrorism
The two big powers agreed to talk on a regular basis about the fight against piracy, terrorism and also the possibility of cooperating in humanitarian missions.
Gates also suggested that there should be more dialog and transparency in other areas, such as atomic weapons, hacker attacks, space weapons and missiles. But China's reaction to the suggestion for a regular strategic dialog about these issues was muted.
"There are new possibilities of development for China-US ties," Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said. "But we also see problems and challenges. We have to work together to build up those things that we have in common and reduce our differences."
There still reigns a strong atmosphere of mutual distrust behind the friendly exteriors. China fears the US is trying to expand its authority in the West Pacific. Beijing is wary of the regular marine exercises conducted by the US and South Korea in the East China Sea. The South China Sea is also a potential minefield.
China's first stealth plane had its maiden flight in Chengdu on Tuesday
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has been observing China’s military modernization drive with growing suspicion.
On Tuesday, the Chinese state media published photos of the maiden flight of China’s first stealth fighter jet. Reports said hundreds of witnesses had gathered to watch the 15-minute flight.
Last week, before making his trip, Gates had admitted that the project had come as a surprise, even to the US secret services.
On Tuesday, the US defense secretary said that he asked Hu directly about the test flight during their meeting and visibly caught him and his aides off guard. The Chinese president reportedly replied that the test had "nothing" to do with Gates' visit and had been "pre-planned."
In Taiwan, however, there was a general feeling among military analysts that the test flight had been timed to demonstrate to the US that China's military capability should not be underestimated.
On Wednesday, Taiwanese military analysts voiced their concern about China's stealth fighters, saying it would be very difficult to detect them if they were to enter Taiwan's airspace.
Author: Ruth Kirchner/act
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein