WASHINGTON, May 7, 2012 â€“ Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta welcomed Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie to the Pentagon today as part of the first U.S. visit by a Chinese defense minister in nine years.
Liangâ€™s visit occurs at a time when the armed forces of both nations seek to expand cooperation, improve understanding, build trust and reduce differences.
â€œThe United States and China are both Pacific powers, and our relationship is one of the most critical in the world,â€ Panetta said at a news conference with Liang after their meeting.
â€œIn my meeting with General Liang, I expressed my commitment to achieving and maintaining a healthy, stable, reliable and continuous [military-to-military] relationship with China,â€ the secretary said, adding that at Liangâ€™s invitation he will visit China within the next few months.
â€œWe share many interests across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond,â€ Panetta added, â€œfrom humanitarian assistance to concerns about weapons of mass destruction to terrorism to drug interdictions to trade to counterpiracy.â€
The nations have worked together in several areas, the secretary said, and expect to expand cooperation in areas such as peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and counterpiracy.
â€œAs you all know,â€ Panetta said, â€œthe U.S. Department of Defense recently released a new defense strategy, recognizing that no region is more important than the Asia-Pacific for our countryâ€™s future peace and prosperity.â€
Liang spoke through an interpreter, describing the purpose of his visit as being â€œto implement the important agreement reached by President Hu Jintao and President [Barack] Obama on developing the China-U.S. state-to-state and military-to-military relationship.â€
As part of that agreement, the general said, both nationsâ€™ militaries will continue to take advantage of ongoing defense consultative talks, defense policy coordination talks, the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement and the defense telephone link between Washington and Beijing.
Both sides, he added, acknowledge that cooperation in security areas in the Asia-Pacific region serves each otherâ€™s fundamental interests, and that both agree to conduct joint exercises on disaster recovery and counterpiracy operations this year.
â€œAt present, China-U.S. bilateral relationship is on a new starting line in history,â€ Liang said, â€œto build a new kind of military relationship based on equality, cooperation and mutual benefit.â€
On his tour of U.S. defense facilities, Liang visited Naval Base San Diego in California over the weekend. After he leaves Washington, he will travel to Miami to visit the U.S. Southern Command and its commander, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser.
There, Southcom officials will highlight opportunities for practical cooperation in areas such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and expand the conversation on nontraditional security cooperation efforts such as counternarcotics, an important part of Southcomâ€™s mission.
May 9, Liang will visit Camp Lejeune, N.C., for meetings and interaction with 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force and a chance to interact with some of the senior Marine Corps noncommissioned officers.
He also will visit Fort Benning, Ga., Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., to have lunch with cadets.
At todayâ€™s news conference, Panetta described several ways in which the United States and China have already worked together and will expand — including peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and counterpiracy.
â€œOn counterpiracy,â€ he said, â€œChina has ably conducted maritime operations in the Gulf of Aden for more than three years, and these operations have helped to secure the free flow of commerce in vital sea lanes from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.â€
Thanking Liang for those efforts, the secretary said that later this year U.S. and Chinese ships will conduct a combined counterpiracy exercise in the Gulf of Aden.
Panetta said he also conveyed his appreciation to Liang for China co-chairing a group dedicated to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
On regional security challenges, the two leaders discussed North Korea and other areas of mutual interest, Panetta said, â€œareas that require our continued cooperation and dialogue.