'Special' Session

By Christopher J. Castelli / August 28, 2009 at 5:00 AM

In bilateral maritime security talks that concluded yesterday in Beijing, China urged America to “reduce, and gradually put an end to air and sea military surveillance and survey operations to avoid naval confrontations,” China's official Xinhua news service said Aug. 27.

In a statement quoted by Xinhua, the defense ministry said, "China believes the constant U.S. military air and sea surveillance and survey operations in China's exclusive economic zone had led to military confrontations between the two sides."

Inside the Pentagon reported earlier this week that senior U.S. defense officials went into the meeting seeking “improved procedures” for avoiding dangerous incidents at sea.

The “special” session -- conducted under the 1998 bilateral Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) -- began Aug. 26 and concluded Aug. 27. Special sessions are convened to address specific matters of concern. Plans for the meeting emerged after several standoffs between Chinese and American naval ships in recent months, including a collision in May between a Chinese submarine and a U.S. warship’s towed sonar array.

Relations between U.S. and Chinese defense officials cooled off last October after China voiced concern about U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. China postponed a number of high-level talks between the two countries. In late June, however, Pentagon policy chief Michèle Flournoy rekindled bilateral defense ties by conducting defense consultative talks in China.