Chinese President Xi Jinping (second right) shakes hands with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (second left) during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday. Photo: AFP
President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called on China and the US to build a new model of military relations in a meeting with visiting US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
As an important part of Sino-US ties, military relations should be advanced under the framework of building a new type of major power relations, Xi, who is also chairman of China's Central Military Commission, told Hagel.
The two countries need to effectively manage their differences and sensitive issues to ensure major power relations always go forward on the right track, Xi said.
The new type of China-US military ties are in the initial phase and the two sides have different understandings but they are looking for ways to advance, said Liu Weidong, an expert on US studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
Hagel is wrapping up his first visit to China since he became defense chief in February last year. His visit came after a stop in Japan, with which China has been embroiled in territorial disputes over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.
The defense chief's exchanges with Chinese military officials saw both blunt exchanges and handshakes, said an opinion piece by the Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday.
Before coming to China, Hagel said the goal for his Asia visit was to assure US allies of commitment to "our treaty obligations." He openly welcomed Japan's attempt to ease the ban on its collective self-defense in a written response to Japan's financial newspaper Nikkei and reassured Tokyo that the Diaoyu Islands fall under the US-Japan Security Treaty.
He was received with frank and outspoken comments from Chinese military officials before the public, which is rarely seen, said analysts.
Before reporters, Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of China's Central Military Commission, said Tuesday that Hagel's remarks on China made at the US-ASEAN defense ministers meeting in Hawaii last week and to the Japanese politicians were "tough."
"The Chinese people, including myself, are dissatisfied with such remarks," Fan noted.
Also in the presence of the press, China's defense minister Chang Wanquan called on the US to keep Tokyo within bounds and not be permissive. He said China would not take pre-emptive action, but its armed forces are ready to respond.
It's rare that Chinese military officials publicly express such attitudes and language, said Niu Xinchun, a research fellow with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, noting that China has been angered by US rhetoric.
"The strong remarks display the diplomatic style of China's new leadership and China's increasing confidence," he told the Global Times.
It's also a tactic with which China wants to press the US to take China's feelings seriously, Liu noted.
Hagel also faced sharp questions when giving a speech at the People's Liberation Army (PLA)'s National Defense University. One Chinese officer voiced his concern that the US was stirring up trouble in the East China Sea and the South China Sea to hamper China's development out of fear of China as a challenge, Reuters reported.
"These questions are prepared by the organizer to deliver China's worries about a possible threat from the US-Japan alliance," said Liu.
Reuters reported China appeared to be getting anxious that the recent tough talk by US officials over China's territorial disputes with its neighbors could be a preview of what US President Barack Obama would say when he visits Asia later this month.
China's defense ministry Wednesday also voiced strong opposition to a bill passed by the US House of Representatives that called on the Obama administration to sell Perry-class frigates to Taiwan.
Meanwhile, Hagel was the first foreign official allowed onboard China's sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province.
This was seen as a gesture of China's sincerity and transparency by analysts.
With outspoken expressions and openness occurring at the same time, the exchanges between China and the US military indicate the wisdom of communication and the art of balance, said the Xinhua opinion piece.
An Obama administration official acknowledged that the tone was sharper on issues surrounding the South China Sea and the East China Sea than it had been on the last visit by a US defense secretary to China, which was in 2012.
"But in other areas the tone was actually improved," the official said, pointing to discussions on Sino-US military cooperation and even North Korea, according to Reuters.
Hagel said at the university that with the modernization and expanding presence in Asia and beyond of the Chinese army, forces from the two countries will have closer proximity, "which increases the risk of an incident, an accident, or a miscalculation."
"But this reality also presents new opportunities for cooperation," he said.
China and the US can enhance their mutual understanding when the divides are frankly discussed, although it's not likely to eradicate the mistrust between the two sides in just one visit, said Tao Wenzhao, an expert on US studies also with CASS.