Page last updated at 07:45 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 08:45 UK

China and US hold military talks

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Chinese officers in Qingdao
Chinese and US ships have confronted each other in the South China Sea

Defence officials from the United States and China are meeting in Beijing for two days of high-level talks.

They are expected to discuss several recent naval confrontations between the two countries in the South China Sea.

North Korea's recent nuclear and missile tests - and how to react to them - will also be on the agenda.

Military relations between China and the US have been strained since last year because of the US sale of arms to Taiwan.

Sovereignty claim

Michele Flournoy, the US under secretary of defence for policy, is leading the US delegation for the talks, set up in 1997.

She will meet Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian from the People's Liberation Army, China's armed forces.

One of the top concerns for the US team is the confrontations between ships from the two countries in the South China Sea.

Already this year, there have been a handful of incidents off China's southern coast.

Just a few weeks ago, a Chinese submarine collided with sonar equipment being towed by the USS John S. McCain off Subic Bay in the Philippines.

China says that was an accident, but the US says it is worried about the increasing number of such incidents.

There is already a mechanism to deal with this kind of conflict.

"We would hope to reinvigorate those discussions so that we can make sure that we're both operating in a safe and prudent manner," said a US defence department spokesman before the US delegation arrived in Beijing.

China says the South China Sea, and its island chains, are part of its sovereign territory and it has previously complained about US naval activity in the region.

The Defence Consultative Talks between China and the US are usually held every year, although not last year.

Beijing suspended military ties between the two nations last October in protest at the US decision to sell $6.5bn-worth of arms to Taiwan, an island China considers its own.

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