China media says Gates visit alone cannot heal ties

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China and the US remain divided by military distrust despite US Defense Secretary Robert Gates's bridge-building visit, state media said on Tuesday, while Chinese websites lauded what they said was the first flight of an advanced fighter.

The Obama administration has made deeper contacts with China's modernizing military one of the gains it hopes to win from President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington next week, after a rocky 2010 when China suspended such contacts to protest US arms sales to Taiwan, the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing.

Gates was due to meet Hu in Beijing later in the day. That meeting showed "the high importance the Chinese side places on the China-US relationship and on the military-to-military relations," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Gates.

But in what may be a sign that some in China want to brandish their muscle and avoid appearing weak, Chinese Internet accounts said the country had successfully staged a first test-flight of a new J-20 stealth fighter jet that could narrow the nation's military gap with the United States.

The reports, including at least one hosted by a state-run newspaper, could not be verified by Reuters. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei did not confirm or deny the reports.

"According to Chinese aviation enthusiasts, it had its first flight at the airplane production plant in Chengdu today," said the website of the Global Times, a popular Chinese newspaper owned by the People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's main paper.

The website carried what it said were pictures of the plane in flight, calling it a "historic moment" (http://mil.huanqiu.com/photo/china/2011-01/1416573_13.html).

Gates and his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie agreed on Monday that stronger military ties were needed to avoid missteps between the two global giants.

But China's mistrust remains deep, and is likely to hold back military cooperation, commentaries in state newspapers said.

GATES: CHINA CONFIRMS STEALTH JET TEST-FLIGHT

Chinese President Hu Jintao confirmed the country had staged its first test-flight of a stealth fighter jet, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday after talks with Hu.

Gates said Hu told him that the maiden test-flight of the advanced fighter jet was not timed to coincide with Gates's visit and had been pre-planned.

Chinese Internet accounts said the country had on Tuesday successfully staged the first test-flight of a new J-20 stealth fighter jet that could narrow the nation's military gap with the United States.

The Obama administration has made stronger military contacts one of the tangible gains it hopes to win from Chinese President Hu's visit to Washington next week.


Chinese stealth fighter J-20 apparent "first flight test". Photo credit: Wall Street Journal (from Huanqiu.com)

In the buildup to Hu's visit to Washington, China's official media have offered effusive accounts of the potential for bilateral cooperation. But the bleaker comments on military tensions underscored how that remains elusive.

"Even though the US defense chief's presence in Beijing marks a positive development in normalizing bilateral military ties, it would be too optimistic to conclude that military exchanges ... will be plain sailing after a single visit," the official China Daily said in an editorial.

Washington's continued selling of weapons to Taiwan, US surveillance along the Chinese coast and its "growing penchant for projecting its military power in the Asia Pacific" still needed to be addressed, the English-language paper said.

The Global Times said the United States was giving with one hand, and taking away with the other, by looking for dialogue but not ceasing exercises in waters near China.

Gates's visit could help steady military relations between Beijing and Washington, but China was sure to retaliate again if the United States continued weapons sales to Taiwan, said Xu Guangyu, a retired Chinese major general who now works for the government-run China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.

"This is a good chance to improve relations, even though there weren't many specific agreements," Xu told Reuters.

"In fact, there are many constraints on military relations, because the US side is so much absolutely stronger," said Xu.

"If there are more (US) weapon sales to Taiwan, the Chinese side will have no choice but to respond. Otherwise, that would amount to acquiescence."

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