TOKYO — Strengthening ties between the U.S. and Chinese militaries — recently strained by U.S. arms sales to Taiwan — will start with joint humanitarian relief training, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said Monday.

"It is a way to begin discussions between our two countries," Casey said at the start of the annual Pacific Armies Management Seminar and biennial Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference.

Focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, both are being held this week in Tokyo.

Despite news reports of a contentious meeting between Casey and his counterpart with the People’s Liberation Army in Beijing last week, the countries’ militaries are moving forward with a bilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise, the general said during a news conference. The exercise is expected to be held in China within the next year, he said.

According to The Associated Press, Chinese army Chief of the General Staff Chen Bingde last week criticized the U.S. for its approval — in 2008 under the Bush administration — of a major arms sale to Taiwan, which considers itself a separate state despite Beijing’s claim of sovereignty.

"You keep challenging and violating our core national interests, and we have to react," Chen said at the meeting with Casey, according to the AP.

Casey, who was to travel to Singapore on Tuesday, downplayed the tension.

"We had some very good discussions ... about the future of our military-to-military relationship," he said Monday. "One of the areas that [Chinese military officials] suggested was to work on a humanitarian assistance disaster relief exercise that we would do bilaterally."

The Chinese and U.S. militaries are also outlining a series of midlevel officer exchanges and general military cultural exchanges, Casey said.

The separate PAMS and PACC meetings, attended by 31 and 26 countries in the region, respectively, are held concurrently and co-hosted by U.S. military officials. China is attending PAMS, although it was invited to both, U.S. officials said.

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