BEIJING -- Putting frictions aside for now, China says relations between the Chinese and U.S. militaries are at a “new historical starting point” and should focus on cooperation and avoiding confrontations.
Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Wu Qian said Thursday that under former President Donald Trump, military-to-military relations "faced many risks and challenges” but the sides now have an opportunity to reset ties.
Wu said the two sides held a teleconference on Tuesday and Wednesday on the tracing of U.S. prisoners of war and those missing in action from previous Asian conflicts, and “exchanged in-depth views on cases of concern to the U.S. side and cooperation between the two militaries, reflecting the importance China attaches to U.S. concerns in the humanitarian field.”
“At present, China-U.S. military relations stand at a new historical starting point," Wu told reporters at a monthly briefing.
Such positive-sounding language fuels perceptions that China's leaders are hoping for a fresh start in relations and a more civil discourse with Washington after years of rancor, even while deep divisions remain.
China resents U.S. support for Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy it claims as its own territory to be conquered by force if necessary, along with the U.S. military presence in the South China Sea and what it sees as a broad-based U.S. campaign to restrain its growth.
The U.S. says it does not recognize China's claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, accuses China of bullying its neighbors and maintains strong alliances or other relationships with Chinese regional rivals such as India, Australia, South Korea and Japan.
The two sides have sought to reduce the chance of conflicts through agreements on unexpected encounters at sea and in the air, but risky incidents continue to occur. While the U.S. disinvited China from its multinational RIMPAC naval drills in 2018, the two sides have had a limited amount of cooperation in non-traditional military fields such as search and rescue and anti-terrorism.
“It is hoped that the U.S. side, in the same spirit of professionalism, will meet China halfway, properly handle China’s concerns in the field of military-to-military relations, strengthen communication, control risks, avoid crises and push forward bilateral military-to-military relations on the right track," Wu said.