US top commander says links with Chinese military improved
The commander of the US Pacific Fleet said Thursday he was confident
he had improved communication channels with China's top military
officials, as he tried to defuse tensions between the two powers.
Admiral Timothy Keating said after a trip to Beijing he now hoped
mainland military leaders would take a call from him in a crisis.
Keating said the move would help avoid a repeat of a November spat
when an American battle carrier group was denied entry to Hong Kong.
"A singular important reason for my visit to Beijing was to see
appropriate-level officials... so as to develop the trust,
understanding, to look them in the eye, and to get a phone number," he
told reporters in Hong Kong.
"So if something comes up that requires some background, some
explanation, or is of a time-critical nature, I can make a phonecall and
have someone on the other end take a phonecall.
"I don't know for a fact that will happen, I much more confident
today than I was before my first visit in May," he said.
Keating reiterated his "disappointment" that the USS Kitty Hawk had
been denied entry to the port over the Thanksgiving holiday, saying the
Chinese decision "was an example of behaviour that was inappropriate by
a major nation."
Thousands of sailors were expected to flood into Hong Kong during the
visit, and many had organised to meet family members.
Keating added that he was more concerned with the decision to refuse
entry to two minesweepers earlier in November, who were stuck in stormy
weather in the South China Sea.
"It is a longstanding custom that mariners will provide safe harbour
to mariners in times of need, so the Chinese refusal to allow these
ships safe harbour is a matter of serious concern," he said.
Tensions between China and the United States have increased in recent
months, with US officials saying they are worried by the rapid build-up
of China's military, while China continues to express concern over US
weapon sales to Taiwan.
China still regards Taiwan part of its territory and has threatened
to retake it by force should it formally declare independence.