AFP: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates met Tuesday with China’s President Hu Jintao amid US hopes of making a case for stronger economic sanctions against Iran.
BEIJING (AFP) US Defence Secretary Robert Gates met Tuesday with China’s President Hu Jintao amid US hopes of making a case for stronger economic sanctions against Iran.
Gates was wrapping up two days of talks in Beijing that were described by both sides as “candid but friendly” and highlighted US concerns about a rapid Chinese military buildup.
“There are clearly areas of agreement and disagreement,” Gates said in introductory remarks as he sat down with Hu in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
“Talking about both is good for the relationship, and I think as a result of our conversation we have opportunities to expand the military-to-military relationship.”
Hu said, via an interpreter, that the talks in Beijing would “be conducive to deepen trust between us and further development of state-to-state relations.”
The US defence secretary made no apparent headway on an appeal for Chinese support for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme in his talks here Monday, when he was told China preferred diplomatic dialogue to economic pressure.
But a senior US defence official told reporters that in the meeting with Hu he would push for further discussions on Iran.
“That’s when you really get some of your real answers in a sense, and the highest quality of discussions really,” the official said.
“I would hope that on Iran we would get a stronger understanding of the importance of using all the tools of diplomacy, not just discussions but also sanctions and pressure, because just talking is not going to get us very far with Iran,” he said.
China has joined Russia, also a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, in opposing a further round of UN economic sanctions to step up the pressure against Tehran, which has defied international demands that it halt its uranium enrichment programme.
Washington charges that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.
Gates also assured Hu that the US government is “categorically” opposed to any moves by Taiwan towards independence.
“I restated our position that we’re categorically opposed to any efforts by anyone to unilaterally change the status quo,” Gates told reporters after his talks with Hu.
“I basically reiterated that the US government has been quite clear in its messages to Taiwan not to change the status quo,” he said, citing Chinese fears of “de jure independence” for Taiwan.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war, and while the island has since governed itself, Beijing considers it part of its own territory awaiting reunification.
Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian is pushing for a referendum next year on launching a fresh bid for United Nations membership using the name Taiwan, rather than the official “Republic of China”.
Proliferation of Chinese missile technology and conventional weapons sales to Iran also was on the list of concerns Gates planned to raise during his visit.
After his talks Monday with Chinese Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan, Gates emphasised the need for greater clarity from Beijing about a rapid military build-up that US officials believe is altering the region’s balance of power.
“I raised with Minister Cao the uncertainty over China’s military modernisation, and the need for greater transparency to allay international concerns,” Gates said at a joint news conference.
“China’s increasing political and economic stature calls for this country to take on a greater share of responsibility for the health and success of the international system.”
He said he raised US concerns about a Chinese anti-satellite test in January but received no response.
Nevertheless, Gates said there was common ground on how their two militaries could work more closely together.
“We discussed the value of deeper dialogue on our respective strategic modernisation programmes, and the importance of discussing in greater depth and greater detail nuclear policy, strategy and programmes on both sides,” he said.
“This is part of the agreement to deepen the dialogue we’ve had. I believe that this will provide the opportunity at least for us to address the issues of transparency that we’ve discussed in the past.”
The underlying US aim in seeking such a dialogue is to avoid a miscalculation between the two nuclear powers, a senior US defence official said.
China has said its annual military budget rose 17.8 percent this year to 45 billion dollars. But the Pentagon believes China’s military spending is as high as 125 billion dollars a year.