Last update 7/14/2011 5:20:00 PM (GMT+7)

China's secretive army opens door for U.S.'s Mullen

VietNamNet Bridge - China's famously secretive army opened its doors just a bit Tuesday for the visit of Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Adm. Mike Mullen sits in the cockpit of an Su-27 fighter jet at the Division 19 Aviation PLA Air Force base in Jining on Tuesday.
China's newfound confidence was visible Monday as Mullen met his counterpart, Gen. Chen Bingde. While Mullen tried to showcase three new agreements for cooperation, Chen had another agenda. He criticized U.S. drills with Australia and Japan in the South China Sea as inappropriate, and he noted that China's fleet of what he called "small ships" was not commensurate with its status.

Chen also said that the U.S. ought to behave in a prudent and modest manner, and he hit out at U.S. military spending.

Monday's itinerary involved watching an anti-terrorism exercise at a field command center of a regiment in Hangzhou in eastern China. The scenario involved anti-government terrorists taking control of a village primary school and temple. The media were soon ushered out.

Another stop was at an air base in Shandong, where fighter planes thundered overhead, dropping flares. That foreign journalists were allowed to watch these displays and visit the army bases is extremely unusual, even though movements were tightly controlled.

In all, Mullen's visit achieved no breakthroughs on the major stumbling blocks: namely, U.S. concerns about China's military assertiveness, and China's opposition to American surveillance close to the Chinese coast. But Mullen is cautiously upbeat.

"The relationship is just recently renewed, so we have a long way to go. The leaders are very committed to that, so I'm actually confident in the future of the military-to-military relationship," he said.

He also inspected a Su-27 fighter jet, sitting in its cockpit and chatting to fighter pilots.

But, symbolic gestures aside, has this trip achieved anything concrete? The deputy chief of China's PLA, Ma Xiaotian, had an answer to that question.

"Of course there's a positive outcome. See how open we are?" Ma said. "In the future you can't keep saying we're not transparent. Next time I go to the U.S., I want this kind of transparency. I want to be able to get into a plane's cockpit, instead of just looking at the plane surrounded by red ropes 60 feet away."