U.S. and China military officials will hold maritime security talks today and tomorrow in Hawaii as part of some of the first re-engagements since China broke off military-to-military relations last January because of a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan.
Officials said the talks will be held at the East-West Center and will involve about a half-dozen officials from each country. Marine Maj. Gen. Randolph Alles, the director of plans and policy at U.S. Pacific Command, will be the senior U.S. representative.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with his counterpart, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie, in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Monday and accepted an invitation to visit Beijing.
Denny Roy, a Northeast Asia political and security issues expert at the East-West Center, said the break-off in military-to-military contact is part of a familiar pattern by China and the re-engagement represents "getting back to normal."
"And the ‘normal’ is not so good to begin with and has been worse in 2010 — because there are some really big issues between the United States and China that we have not really begun to talk about working out solutions for," Roy said.
Arms sales to Taiwan, which China views as a renegade province, is one, with the U.S. not giving any sign it will stop, and China reacting "more strongly" with the protracted military severance, Roy said.
The other big issue is China’s assertion of stronger ownership rights over maritime regions off the Chinese coast, both in the Yellow Sea and South China Sea.
Roy calls the steps, both by the U.S. and China, the "irresistible force against the immovable object."
But after making its own "assertive moves," China may want to do damage control and assuage concerns by re-engaging with the U.S. military, he said.
The Pentagon said the Hawaii talks will focus on maritime cooperation, including search-and-rescue exercises and communication at sea.
"Evidently, they want to start with something relatively easy, rather than announce, for example, that we’re going to … solve and settle the issue over sovereignty in the South China Sea (and) where the United States Navy can and cannot operate, or arms sales to Taiwan," Roy said.