WASHINGTON - China's Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Fan Changlong has invited US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter for a visit to China this year as part of the efforts to promote bilateral military ties, a Chinese defense spokesman said Friday.
The invitation was extended to Carter at their talks held at the Pentagon Thursday, said Guan Youfei, director of the Foreign Affairs Office of China's National Defense Ministry, at a news briefing on Fan's visit to the United States. This will be Carter's first visit to China since he was appointed the Pentagon chief in February.
During the talks, the two military chiefs exchanged views in a candid and cordial manner on a wide range of issues, such as the military-to-military relationship and issues concerning maritime security, Taiwan, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula.
The main goal of Fan's visit is to create "a positive atmosphere" for the planned state visit to the United States by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September, by boosting mutual trust, deepening cooperation, promoting friendship and accumulating consensus, Guan said.
"Fan has stressed on several occasions to the US side that Xi's visit to the United States is the most important event in the China-US relations, thus the two sides should contribute, rather than damage, efforts to ensure the success of the summit between the two heads of state," the spokesman said.
The US side said that it is looking forward to Xi's visit, and pledged to work with the Chinese side in the next months to achieve more progress in the area of military cooperation as part of active preparation for the crucial visit.
The two sides discussed the air-to-air annex to the "two mutual trust mechanisms" reached last year, namely the Mutual Reporting and Trust on Major Military Operations and the Code of Safe Conduct on Naval and Air Encounters, promising to achieve tangible results ahead of Xi's visit.
Fan proposed three initiatives on building a new model of China-US military-to-military relationship based on mutual trust, cooperation, non-conflict and sustainability, Guan said.
Firstly, he proposed the two sides intensify the exchange of high-level military visits to enhance mutual understanding and communications. For that sake, China has invited Carter and Harry Harris, the newly-posted head of the US Pacific Command, for a visit to China.
Secondly, he advised the two militaries to increase practical cooperation, and support the existing working mechanisms with concrete measures. As part of the efforts, Fan witnessed, with US Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno, the signing of the Army-to-Army Dialogue Mechanism at the National Defense University on Friday afternoon.
It is desired for the two armies to conduct a joint land drill or competition next year to make it become a landmark project for mutual cooperation, and for them to conduct some joint exercises on implementing the code of safe conduct for air encounters.
Thirdly, Fan called for management of risks to avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment between the two militaries. For this end, the two sides should strive to complete the consultations on signing the Code of Safe Conduct on Naval and Air Encounters by August, while actively pushing forward with the construction of the "two mutual trust mechanisms," with prior consideration to the mechanism on mutual reporting on major exercises.
Carter said he fully agreed with the Chinese initiatives on making joint efforts to improve the US-China relations and contributing to the creation of a better security environment in the Asia Pacific and the world as a whole, Guan said.
On the South China Sea issue, Fan explained that the construction of facilities on some of China's islands and reefs in the region are mainly for civilian purposes, while insisting that China has the right to establish necessary defense facilities there.
He emphasized that China's building activities will not affect the security of other nations, nor the freedom of navigation for the United States and other countries.
China has not changed its position on seeking a resolution of disputes through bilateral negotiations and consultations between relevant parties. The two sides should look beyond the South China Sea issue to pay more attention to other more important global issues.
Fan also expressed concern about the continued upgrading of US military contacts with Taiwan, while urging Washington to refrain from sending a wrong message to the forces seeking the island's independence from the Chinese mainland, citing that the Taiwan issue concerns China's core interests.
The US reaffirmed at the talks that it had not changed its policy toward Taiwan.
China believes that the two countries face opportunities as well difficulties in advancing bilateral military ties. In general, there are more common interests and mutual consensuses than divisions and conflicts, which means there is more space for future China-US military cooperation, Guan said.
If the two militaries can further enhance the scope of pragmatic cooperation, gradually remove legal and practical barriers for military exchanges, and increase their collaboration and interaction on Asian security matters, they should be able to ensure steady and healthy development of a new type of military relationship, and make positive contributions to maintaining regional and global peace and stability, he noted.