China Welcomes Visit by U.S. Defense Secretary – Some Day

By Scott McDonald | July 1, 2010 | 7:00 AM EDT
Beijing (AP) - China said Thursday that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is welcome to visit at an appropriate time, just weeks after it rejected a proposed trip by him.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted the deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army as saying Gates was welcome.
"We still welcome him to visit China at a time which is workable for both sides," General Ma Xiaotian was quoted as saying when asked whether a visit by Gates was possible in the "coming months."
Xinhua did not give a reason for the change.
Relations between the world's most powerful military and the PLA, the world's biggest army, have been strained recently, with Chinese leaders especially angry over the Obama administration's decision in January to go ahead with arms sales to Taiwan worth $6.4 billion.
In Singapore in early June, Gates said China's military was a roadblock to better overall relations between the United States and China.
Gates had hoped to make a stop in China while he was in Asia, but aides said he was disinvited from a tentative visit. Gates suggested at the time that the PLA got cold feet.
One Chinese analyst said the shift shows China has not rejected bilateral military exchanges with the United States.
"It was just too early for China to accept his visit following the American decision on arms sales to Taiwan. Of course, it's in China's consideration to stabilize the development of overall bilateral relations," said Zhu Feng, a professor with the School of International Studies of Peking University.
"The suspension of the military exchanges does not tally with the active state of the exchanges of the two sides in other fields," Zhu said.
China is also angry over President Barack Obama's decision to meet with the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing accuses of trying to separate Tibet from China. The countries have also tangled this year over trade disputes and cyberspying accusations from Google Inc.
Calls to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing were not immediately answered Thursday.
On Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley would not confirm or reject reports that the United States was holding back arms sales to Taiwan because of pressure from China.
Crowley said in reply to a question that arms sales to Taiwan are made in consultation only with Taiwan.
Just weeks after China rejected a proposed visit from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Chinese official said on Thursday that Gates would be welcome to visit 'at a time which is workable for both sides.'