US Army chief of staff meets top Chinese generals

BEIJING (AP) — China and the United States share common objectives and should boost cooperation between their militaries, the U.S. Army chief said Friday at the start of meetings with top Chinese generals aimed at building trust amid rising regional tensions.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno told his Chinese counterpart, Lt. Gen. Wang Ning, that both had "incredibly professional armies" that should work more closely together, in an effort to propel forward a relationship that has progressed by fits and starts over the past decade.

"I believe these discussions are important to continue our dialogue. We have many common objectives," Odierno said in opening remarks at their meeting at the Defense Ministry in western Beijing.

Wang said China "sincerely hoped" for more substantial relations with the U.S. military through practical cooperation.

Both sides said they looked forward to discussing international and regional security matters, a nod to bitter disputes between China and two U.S. allies — Japan and the Philippines — over territorial claims in the East and South China Seas that have raised alarms over the possibility of armed conflict.

The director of intelligence for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Capt. James Fanell, said last week that Chinese war games held last year were engineered to ready forces to snatch away the uninhabited islands from Japan, a move that almost certainly would trigger an American military response.

Odierno, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, was greeted with full military honors and had a full day of meetings scheduled in addition to a dialogue with scholars at the prestigious Peking University.

Along with the sharpening territorial disputes with its neighbors, China also sparked U.S. concerns late last year when it unexpectedly announced an air defense zone encompassing a large swath of the East China Sea, including islands controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.

Washington has refused to recognize the zone or follow China's demands that its aircraft file flight plans with Beijing's Defense Ministry and heed Chinese instructions. China has warned of unspecified retaliatory measures against aircraft that do not comply, but has so far taken no action.

Odierno's visit began hours before the scheduled meeting later Friday in Washington between U.S. President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, which drew a strong protest from China. Beijing accuses the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader of being a separatist agitator and opposes any meetings between him and foreign leaders.

Despite tensions between the two sides, the militaries have pushed ahead with limited steps to reduce longstanding mistrust between them. They have held simulations aimed at cooperating in humanitarian relief operations, and China's navy later this year is to take part in multinational naval exercises off Hawaii.

Odienro will travel north on Saturday to tour the headquarters of China's Shenyang Military Region.