ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
China's famously secretive army opened its doors just a bit today. The army did so for a visit by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen. This was a fence mending mission after China cut off military ties last year over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
NPR's Louisa Lim has been following Mullen's visit. And she was one of the few journalists allowed inside Chinese army bases along with him.
(Soundbite of a military band)
LOUISA LIM: The troops were out to salute Admiral Mike Mullen for his official welcoming ceremony. One day earlier, speaking to the Beijing University students, Mullen had noted that China's time has come.
Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): It is no longer a rising power. It has, in fact, arrived as a world power.
Unidentified Man: Let's shake hands.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LIM: China's newfound confidence was visible, as Mullen met his counterpart, General Chen Bingde, on Monday. As 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. He noted that China's fleet of what he called small ships was not commensurate with its status. He said that the U.S. ought to behave in a prudent and modest manner, and he hit out at U.S. military spending.
General CHEN BINGDE (Chief of the General Staff, Chinese Army): (Through Translator) I know U.S. is still recovering from financial crisis; still have some difficulties in its economy. Given such circumstances, you are still spending so much money on the military. Isn't it placing too much pressure on the taxpayers? If U.S. could reduce a bit military spending to spend more on the improvement of livelihood of American people, and also do more good things for world people, wouldn't it be a better scenario?
Unidentified Woman: Engaged in constant terrorist attacks, killing over 30 government employees and civilians.
LIM: Today'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 was soon ushered out.
As cicadas buzzed outside, I spoke to Colonel Yang Yujun from China's Ministry of Defense Information office. He had his own reading of the military press conference. It was, you might paraphrase, the tough love defense. He saw the outspoken criticism as a sign of closeness, not distance.
Colonel YANG YUJUN (Spokesman, Ministry of Defense Information Office): I don't believe that between enemies they could speak quite frankly, because they may have tried to guard against the others so that they cannot tell all the truth. But only between their friends they could speak so frankly.
(Soundbite of airplanes)
LIM: Another stop was at an airbase 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 our movements were tightly controlled.
But in all, Mullen's visit made 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.
Adm. MULLEN: The relationship is just recently renewed, so we have a long way to go. And the leaders are very committed to that. So I'm actually confident in the future of the military-military relationship.
Unidentified Man #2: Third generation fighters, it can reach up to 122 to 280 hours per year.
LIM: He also inspected an SU-27 fighter jet, sitting in its cockpit and chatting to fighter pilots. But symbolic gestures aside, has this trip achieved anything concrete?
I put that question to the deputy chief of China's PLA, General Ma Xiaotian.
General MA XIAOTIAN (Deputy Chief, PLA): (Through Translator) Of course there's a positive outcome. See how open we are? 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.
LIM: Whether that newfound openness is here to stay is another question. But at the very least, China's military appears to be learning the art of spin.
Louisa Lim, NPR News, Hangzhou.