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Militaries try to nip conflict potential

TOP Chinese and US military officials said yesterday that the countries will work together to avoid confrontations at sea that have sparked worries of a crisis in overall relations.

The issue was at the center of the first high-level military talks between the two countries in 18 months after a series of naval encounters, including a collision of a Chinese submarine and a US sonar device, raised concerns about poor communications between the two navies.

The People's Liberation Army deputy chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian, said China had reiterated its opposition to US planes and ships entering China's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

"Our two sides agreed to work together to avoid such incidents from happening again since they would surely have a negative impact on our bilateral relations in general," Ma told a news conference at the end of the two-day China-US Defense Consultative Talks in Beijing.

US Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, who led the US delegation, said specific incidents were not discussed but added that the parties had agreed in principle to hold a bilateral forum next month to discuss how to avoid future altercations.

"I think there is a strong desire on both sides to reduce the number of incidents as much as possible and when they do occur resolve them as carefully as possible," she told reporters.

The defense discussions were last held in December 2007. They were suspended by China in anger over US arms sales to Taiwan.

Ma said that China had pressed the US delegation on the issue of the arms sales, calling them a "central topic of the discussions."

Flournoy said the Obama administration had not made any decisions on future arms sales to Taiwan.

On North Korea, Ma insisted that the nuclear issue should be addressed by diplomatic means.

Flournoy said the US would work with the other concerned parties to get North Korea back to talks about ridding the peninsula of nuclear weapons.


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