US defense chief plays down any internal China rift

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday played down the possibility of any rift  between China's civilian leadership and its military about strengthening ties with the US armed forces.

"What came across to me is that both the civilian and the  military leadership seem determined to carry this relationship  further, and build upon it," Gates told reporters during a  visit to China's Great Wall.

China conducted its first-ever test flight of a new stealth fighter jet on Tuesday, a demonstration of the  country's growing military might that partly overshadowed the  US defense chief's bridge-building visit.

A Pentagon official said China's President Hu Jintao and  civilians leaders appeared unaware of the test when Gates  brought it up at a meeting on Tuesday. That raised questions  about a possible rift within China, where the military is meant to be subordinate to the ruling Communist Party.

Asked about whether he saw a division, Gates said: "I  don't think I talked about a rift as much as I did the fact,  the simple fact ... the civilian leadership seemed surprised  by the test and assured me that it had nothing to do with my  visit."

China told the United States on Wednesday the test flight  should not be seen as a threat, reiterating it had no  intention of challenging US military might in the Pacific. 

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