"Our two nations now have an extraordinary opportunity to define our relationship not by the obstacles that at times divide us, but by the opportunities that exist to foster greater cooperation and bring us closer together," Gates said during a news conference with China's National Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie.
Both men said Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama want good military-to-military ties between nations.
"We are in strong agreement that in order to reduce the chances of miscommunication, misunderstanding or miscalculation, it is important that our military-to-military ties are solid, consistent and not subject to shifting political winds," Gates said.
Liang agreed, saying through a translator, "We both recognize that enhancing and maintaining dialogue and communication at all levels is of great significance in the development of military-to-military relations."
Both sides share a responsibility to build mutual trust, he added.
China ended military-to-military ties after the U.S. government sold defensive weapons to Taiwan in 2010. Gates said the military-to-military relationship must continue in good times and bad.
The two defense leaders also want to institutionalize and normalize contacts between the two militaries, agreeing consultative talks, policy coordination talks and the military maritime consultative agreement can be important conduits between the two nations, Gates said.
Liang said China and the United States agreed to conduct a military maritime working group meeting and defense policy coordination talks during the first half of this year.
The United States and China also will establish a joint working group to discuss the guiding principles and framework for military-to-military relations and develop working documents for approval, Gates said.