Military exchanges to foster US-China trust: Mullen

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2011 (AFP) - The United States is mulling a bilateral exchange of defense officials with Beijing, the top American military official said Tuesday, following his visit to China earlier this month.

US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen wrote in the New York Times that the proposed exchanges are an outgrowth of mutual visits by his Chinese counterpart Chen Bingde last year to the United States, followed by Mullen's trip to China this month.

AFP - A handout picture released by the US embassy in Tel Aviv shows Israel's Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu (R) shaking hands with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Military, Admiral Michael G. Mullen (C) as Israel's Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz (L) look on in Jerusalem on July 19, 2011

"General Chen and I are considering more frequent discussions, more exercises, more personnel exchanges," the navy admiral wrote.

"We both believe that the younger generation of military officers is ready for closer contact, and that upon their shoulders rests the best hope for deeper, more meaningful trust," he said in the Times.

The top US military officer said that the relationship between China and the United States should be based on "candid and forthright" talks rather than suspicion, and that there are various "crucial areas where our interests coincide."

"There are issues on which we disagree and are tempted to confront each other," Mullen wrote in Tuesday's New York Times.

"So we need to make the relationship better, by seeking strategic trust," Mullen said in the daily, stressing the growing importance of diplomacy between the two powers.

"We've got to keep talking. Dialogue is critical," he wrote.

"A good bit of misunderstanding between our militaries can be cleared up by reaching out to each other. We don't have to give away secrets to make our intentions clear, just open up a little," Mullen said, asserting that the time had come to end the knee-jerk suspicion vis-a-vis China.

"When they don't like something we do, they cut off ties. That can't be the model anymore. Nor can we, for our part, swing between engagement and over-reaction," he wrote.

"Real trust has to start somewhere."

Mullen earlier this month became the first chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff since 2007 to visit China, following a US visit by Chen last year.

The navy admiral's visit came amid tension over Beiing's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Nevertheless, Mullen wrote, "we broke new ground by, among other things, showing him (Chen) Predator drone capabilities in detail and a live-fire exercise," he said.

"The Chinese reciprocated with a tour of their latest submarine, a close look at an SU-27 jet fighter and a complex counter-terrorism exercise."

"Our discussions were candid and forthright," Mullen continued.

"General Chen made no bones about his concerns about American arms sales to Taiwan, and I made it clear that the United States military will not shrink from our responsibilities to allies and partners," he said.

"Not exactly cordial, but at least we were talking," he wrote in the Times.

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