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Official: U.S.-China military relations 'back on track'

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
  • A senior Defense Department official's visit was the key in putting relations in order again
  • Military-to-military relations soured after the U.S. revealed a $6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan
  • Two more meetings have been scheduled and there's talk of a possible Gates visit to China

Washington (CNN) -- Military-to-military relations between the United States and China are "back on track," a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday, largely due to a visit to Beijing by a senior U.S. Defense Department official.

Spokesman Col. David Lapan said Michael Schiffer, the deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Security, met in the Chinese capital Monday and Tuesday with Maj. Gen. Qian Lihua, the director of the foreign affairs office in China's defense ministry.

The meeting was aimed at improving relations between the U.S. and Chinese militaries, which have virtually been on hold since last January, when the Obama administration unveiled a $6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan -- including about $2.85 billion in missiles.

At the time, China said the sales caused "serious harm and impacts on Sino-U.S. military relations."

Schiffer's visit was aimed at getting past the "fits and starts" in the relationship caused by events such as the arms sales and it met with some success, Lapan said. Two more meetings have been scheduled between the U.S. and Chinese militaries in the near future.

The relationship is "back where we want it to be. Which is resuming the mil-to-mil (military-to-military) contacts and relationship," Lapan added. "Obviously our hope is that that continues."

The first scheduled meeting is a session under the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement in Hawaii next month. Later this year, the two sides will hold consultative talks between higher level defense officials in Washington -- a meeting that will likely involve an under-secretary of defense.

Schiffer also hinted at a possible visit to China by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Lapan said.

"That was a topic of conversation during these talks. No decisions were made, but we may see something on that in the future," the spokesman added.