Progress in joint U.S.-China military initiatives targets challenges and security threats faced by both nations and the region, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said yesterday during a visit with military officials in Beijing.
Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, held a briefing there for reporters.
“We discussed many important issues of mutual concern this morning,” Mullen said, “and I believe we went a long way toward advancing some of the initiatives to which we both committed during your visit to the United States in May.”
Chen visited the United States in May following a Jan. 11 visit to China by then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and a meeting in Washington Jan. 19 between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
That day, in a joint statement, the leaders affirmed that a healthy, stable and reliable military-to-military relationship is essential for a positive U.S.-China relationship.
The military-to-military relationship also was on the agenda in meetings between the chairman and Chen, who said that the Chinese place “great value” on Mullen’s visit.
“In a period of a little bit more than one month’s time, the senior military leaders of China and the United States have realized exchanges of visit,” Chen said.
“This has been unprecedented in the past history of engagement between Chinese and American militaries,” he added, sending a positive message to the international community on the commitment to implement Obama’s and Hu’s vision for friendly and cooperative military relations.
Mullen’s trip has included visits to Chinese army units, facilities and bases. He observed a command post exercise and visited the Chinese army’s 2nd Artillery Corps headquarters, where he viewed a CSS-7 short-range ballistic missile on a mobile launcher.
“I greatly appreciated the opportunity yesterday to visit the 2nd Artillery,” Mullen said. “I know there have been other visitors there historically, “but there were some specific details which I know I was the first to be able to see. I know General Chen made that a priority, and it was a significant effort to recognize the importance of my visit here.”
Meeting topics between the military leaders included American attitudes toward China, cybersecurity, Chinese army force development and the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is a vital shipping lane with vast oil and gas deposits. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines lay claim to overlapping parts of it, causing regional friction and several recent confrontations.
Mullen said he and Chen had very frank discussions on the issue, focusing on freedom of navigation.
“We have no differences with respect to freedom of navigation,” the chairman said. “It’s a very important underlying principle that doesn’t just apply in the South China Sea, but applies around the world.”
The United States will stay engaged in the issue, Mullen said, “[but] we choose not to take a position with respect to how the disputes should be resolved.”
He added, “We are very anxious to see that, one, the sea lanes stay open and, two, that these issues get resolved.”
The United States has “enduring interests in the region and we will continue to support those enduring interests,” Mullen said. “We want to do it in a way that is supportive of this relationship as well.”
Other progress during Mullen’s visit included confirming that Military Maritime Consultative Agreement working groups will meet in China and at U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii to discuss operational safety issues, and that U.S. and Chinese navies will conduct joint counterpiracy exercises in the Gulf of Aden by the end of this year.
“I was also gratified to begin discussing more details about our efforts to conduct joint humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief exercises in 2012,” Mullen said.
Continuing his visit today, Mullen will tour military facilities outside Beijing, the chairman’s spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, said.
Mullen will fly in a Chinese military aircraft to Jiing City to visit the 19th Aviation Division, where he will receive an operational briefing, view a Sukhoi SU-27 single-seat, twin-engine Mach-2 class jet, and have lunch with Chinese military pilots.
Afterward, Mullen will travel to Hangzhou to see the 1st Division, 1st Group Army, and observe a command post exercise before dining with Gen. Zhao Keshi, the Nanjing Military Region commanding general.
Tomorrow, Mullen’s last day in China, Kirby said, the chairman will visit naval facilities and units at the Zhoushan Naval Base.