China's political and military leaders split over ties to Washington, Gates says

By Craig Whitlock
Friday, June 4, 2010

SINGAPORE -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates accused China's military on Thursday of impeding relations with the Pentagon, taking exception to its unwillingness to invite him to Beijing during his trip to Asia this week.

Gates told reporters that there is a clear split between China's political leaders, who he said want a stronger military connection with Washington, and the People's Liberation Army, which he said does not.

"I think they are reluctant to engage with us on a broad level," he said. "The PLA is significantly less interested in this relationship than the political leadership of China."

Beijing's political and economic relations with Washington have gradually improved in recent years, as the emerging global superpower and the established one have tried to come to terms with each other. But military cooperation has lagged, a source of frustration for Pentagon officials.

They say that communication with the People's Liberation Army needs to improve to deal with regional crises, such as South Korea's accusation that a North Korean submarine torpedoed one of its warships in March, to broader strategic issues, such as the long-term buildup of China's military forces. Washington also has been seeking China's support -- without much success -- in trying to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Gates visited Beijing in November 2007 as defense secretary in George W. Bush's administration. Shortly afterward, the Pentagon announced that it would sell Patriot missile upgrades to Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, prompting China to cancel a port call by a U.S. aircraft carrier and cut other military ties.

Following a gradual warming period, Gates had been hoping for a return visit to China this summer. But after Washington announced in January the sale of another arms package to Taiwan, this one worth $6.4 billion, Beijing objected again and decided to give Gates the cold shoulder on his Asia trip.

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