Gates in China
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made little progress in advancing U.S.-China military relations on his first visit to China as defense chief, and defense officials say his talks were dominated by the usual barrage of Chinese platitudes against U.S. arms sales to and support for Taiwan.
Mr. Gates announced last week in Beijing that the Chinese had agreed “in principle” to a U.S. proposal to set up a direct telephone link between the Pentagon and the Chinese Defense Ministry. But the officials said the hot line proposal has been discussed for years, with promises by the Chinese to “study” the plan but never getting to the point of actually setting one up.
A Pentagon official said of the hot line deal that “while we have reached this agreement with China, we do not want to get too far out ahead on this.” Technical consultations and preparations still are needed “so that the agreement can be finalized,” the official said.
Other officials said the hot line will work only if it is located where the real power in the Chinese military works, namely inside the secret underground command facility known as Western Hills, in Beijing, and not at the showpiece defense ministry. China’s military is expected to refuse to permit the hot line at the site.
Chinese military officials continue to block all visiting U.S. defense and military officers from seeing the command bunker, fearing the visits would enhance U.S. intelligence-gathering or precision-guided missile targeting. Chinese military visitors, by contrast, have been shown very sensitive U.S. military facilities.
On the anti-satellite weapon test China carried out in January, Chinese generals refused to discuss the matter in meetings with Mr. Gates, leaving the defense secre- tary with no answers about the development of a strategic space weapon that could cripple U.S. military communications in a conflict.
“The trip failed miserably,” said a second defense official, noting that the Chinese military’s new tactic is to limit contacts and agreements with the Pentagon to nothing more than it allows for military exchanges with other nations, highlighting the view among Chinese communist and military leaders who see the U.S. as their main enemy.
A U.S. diplomat said Mr. Gates, who is more focused on Iraq, has shown little interest in China. “He just wants to check the box of making a trip that [Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] and [Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.] demanded,” the official said.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton said in summing up the visit that “what will come out of it was an ongoing dialogue about these issues [. . .] to enter into a longer-term dialogue about perceptions of threats, about a world that faces a threat of nuclear proliferation. We see this as an ongoing process rather than a one-time event.”