SINGAPORE (AFP) - US and Chinese defence chiefs said Friday military relations between the two countries had made some progress and were moving in a "positive" direction. At the start of a meeting in Singapore, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told his Chinese counterpart, Defence Minister Liang Guanglie, that military ties between the two countries were improving. "As I leave office at the end of this month, I do so believing our military relationship is on a more positive trajectory," said Gates, who is wrapping up his tenure at the Pentagon after more than four years. Presidents of both countries agreed that security ties represented an "underdeveloped" aspect of relations but "in recent months our two countries have made some progress towards rectifying this imbalance by jointly identifying areas of cooperation," he said. Sitting across a table from the Pentagon chief, Liang said there had been "some progress" in recent months and praised efforts by both countries to lay the groundwork for better security ties. As reporters looked on, Gates said that it was "critically important" to preserve a dialogue between military leaders to discuss areas of disagreement. The conciliatory tone follows tentative signs that tensions were easing, with a top Chinese general touring US bases last month and Gates paying a visit to Beijing in January. However, US arms sales to Taiwan have been a recurring sticking point, and China has suspended ties whenever Washington announces new weapons deals. Despite the positive comments at Friday's talks, the issue could once again scupper attempts to forge a dialogue as US senators are pushing to sell F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. US officials have argued that the arms sales do not pose a threat to China and that a security dialogue should be preserved to avoid misunderstandings. Gates and Liang met on the sidelines of an Asia security summit in Singapore, where for the first time China had sent its defence minister to attend the event that attracts top officials from across the region. Before arriving in Singapore on Thursday, Gates told reporters on his plane that the United States was not seeking to "hold China down" but remained concerned about new weaponry that could undermine the US military's reach in the Pacific. "We are not trying to hold China down. China has been a great power for thousands of years. It is a global power and will be a global power," he said. "So the question is how we work our way through this in a way that assures that we continue to have positive relations in areas like economics and other areas that are important to both of us, and manage whatever differences of view we have in the other areas," he said. During a trip to the United States last month, People's Liberation Army Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde said his country was ready to bolster military ties with the United States but repeated warnings that Washington's arms sales to Taiwan remained a stumbling block. In a week-long visit to the United States, Chen insisted country had no plans to take on the US military in the Pacific.