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By sending general to China, US shows off military ties

Dunford's East Asia trip bolsters efforts to counter North Korea threat

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, center left, met with Chinese military officials near the North Korean border Wednesday.   © AP

BEIJING/WASHINGTON -- The top U.S. uniformed officer's visit to China has helped to highlight military cooperation between the two countries, sending a subtle message to Pyongyang that Beijing's support may be not available in the event of American military action.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concluded Friday a hurried tour of three Asian countries that also included Japan and South Korea. While in China on Wednesday, he met with Song Puxuan, a People's Liberation Army commander with jurisdiction over the border region with North Korea. They met near that border in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning, which on any other occasion would be a surprisingly out-of-the-way stop.

Dunford said he was pleased to visit Song's Northern Theater Command and hoped to pursue further cooperation at all levels. Song said that China and the U.S. were closely partnered with regard to a number of issues in international society. He also said that the problem of North Korea's nuclear program had to be solved through dialogue.

Song then invited Dunford to lunch in a barracks cafeteria with soldiers from the front lines. Having American and Chinese military personnel break bread together sends a strong message to North Korea, a source familiar with Sino-American relations said.

Dunford also visited President Xi Jinping, who likewise spoke of the importance of military cooperation between the two countries and extended wishes of welcome to U.S. President Donald Trump, set to visit China this year. With the Communist Party's twice-a-decade congress coming up this fall, Beijing would rather avoid friction with Washington.

China supported the North in the Korean War and has long spoken of a blood alliance with its communist neighbor. Dispatching Dunford marks an ostentatious show of military cooperation between Washington and Beijing and is expected to provide a check on Pyongyang. Parading this cooperation near the China-North Korea border is particularly significant.

Dunford also said during his visit that he intended to go ahead as planned with joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises set to begin Monday, apparently dismissing White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon's recent assertion that "there's no military solution" to North Korea's nuclear threats. Bannon has since been removed from the post.

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