U.S.-China mil­i­tary talks mark new role

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY RICHARD HALLORAN

HONOLULU | The U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand has opened a new chan­nel of com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the Peo­ple´s Lib­er­a­tion Army of China — a diplo­matic li­ai­son with se­nior non­com­mis­sioned of­fi­cers.

The ex­change comes at a time of de­te­ri­o­rat­ing U.S.-Rus­sia mil­i­tary re­la­tions but was planned months ago. U.S. of­fi­cials are loath to im­ply any con­nec­tion be­tween the two de­vel­op­ments.

The Sino-U.S. ex­change marked the first use of non­com­mis­sioned of­fi­cers in a diplo­matic role, said Chief Mas­ter Sgt. James Roy of the Air Force.

Sgt. Roy led the del­e­ga­tion of 16 se­nior NCOs to China and is pre­par­ing to re­ceive a Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion in a re­cip­ro­cal visit to U.S. forces in Hawaii this fall.

“We went to un­der­stand them bet­ter and to have them un­der­stand us,” he said in an in­ter­view.

“We did not go to help them to build ca­pac­ity.”

U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said the ef­fort has two goals: to de­ter China from con­fronting the U.S. with armed force and to re­as­sure the Chi­nese that the U.S. is not seek­ing to con­tain their na­tion.

NCOs — en­listed ser­vice mem­bers who rise through the ranks — are re­spon­si­ble for the day-to­day care, feed­ing, train­ing and work of sol­diers, sailors, Marines and air­men. Like fore­men, they are charged with get­ting work ac­com­plished and are con­sid­ered the back­bone of the U.S. armed forces.

U.S. mil­i­tary ex­changes with China have been crit­i­cized by neo­con­ser­va­tives and oth­ers who warn that China uses the vis­its to up­grade its forces.

As a re­sult, Sino-U.S. mil­i­tary re­la­tions have trav­eled a bumpy road for years.

The ex­changes have in­creased in the fi­nal months of the Bush ad- min­is­tra­tion, ap­par­ently fol­low­ing a tone set by Adm. Den­nis Blair, who led the Pa­cific Com­mand in 1999.

In tes­ti­mony be­fore Congress, Adm. Blair said that U.S. mil­i­tary leaders sought to make two points to the Chi­nese:

“We’re not sit­ting here plan­ning to con­tain China. We’re not sit­ting here dy­ing to pick a fight with China. We ba­si­cally are an armed force in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety who will fight if we must but pre­fer not to. And we’ll sup­port Amer­i­can in­ter­ests if we have to, but don’t mess with us.”

“We are very aware in our pro­gram of not giv­ing away more than we get from th­ese ex­changes. We’re not do­ing it to be nice guys. We’re do­ing it to get our job done, of teach­ing the Chi­nese what sort of ca­pa­bil­ity we have out there.”

Plans for U.S. mil­i­tary con­tacts with China con­trast with de­te­ri­o­rat­ing re­la­tions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow on both mil­i­tary and diplo­matic fronts.

Rus­sia an­nounced Aug. 28 that it had tested an in­tercon­ti­nen­tal mis­sile.

“The launch was spe­cially tasked to test the mis­sile’s ca­pa­bil­ity to avoid ground-based de­tec­tion sys­tems,” Col. Alexan­der Vovk of the Rus­sian Strate­gic Rocket Forces told re­porters, ac­cord­ing to wire ser vice dis­patches from Moscow.

The test was con­ducted a week af­ter the U.S. and Poland signed a deal to base part of a mis­sile de­fense sys­tem in Poland over ob­jec­tions from Rus­sia, and as ten­sions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow height­ened over Rus­sia’s in­ter­ven­tion in Ge­or­gia.

In re­cent years, sev­eral U.S. sec­re­taries of de­fense and top mil­i­tary of­fi­cers have vis­ited China and re­ceived their coun­ter­parts in Wash­ing­ton.

A large part of the mil­i­tary ex­change has fallen to the Pa­cific Com­mand based in Honolulu.

Adm. William J. Fal­lon, com­man­der of U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand from Fe­bru­ary 2005 to March 2007, went to China three times. The cur­rent com­man­der, Adm. Ti­mothy Keat­ing, has made one visit and likely will go to China again next year.

Se­nior Chi­nese of­fi­cers have vis­ited the com­mand´s head­quar­ters in Honolulu and bases on the U.S. main­land.

In ad­di­tion, ex­changes of mid­dle-grade com­mis­sioned of­fi­cers, those who will lead their re­spec­tive ser­vices in the next 10 or 15 years, have be­gun.

Now the se­nior NCOs have been tasked to gauge the qual­ity of Chi­nese NCOs and to im­press the Chi­nese with U.S. train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army, hav­ing been an un­schooled force that re­lied on hu­man-wave tac­tics since the 1950-53 Korean War, has be­gun to de­velop qual­i­fied NCOs.

Chi­nese leaders, a Pen­tagon re­port said in March, are con­cerned that “low ed­u­ca­tion lev­els in the PLA neg­a­tively af­fect its op­er­at­ing ca­pa­bil­ity and pro­fes­sion­al­ism.”

While the Amer­i­can del­e­ga­tion was in China on their ini­tial visit, the non­com­mis­sioned of­fi­cers en­gaged in dis­cus­sions dur­ing the week mostly with Chi­nese of­fi­cers, not with NCOs, and toured bases in the Nan­jing mil­i­tary district on the cen­tral coast of China.

The Chi­nese, Sgt. Roy said, asked “very few stray ques­tions. They had a good idea of why we were there.”

Even so, the Amer­i­can con­cept of a non­com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer corps puz­zled the Chi­nese.

“The Chi­nese do not yet un­der­stand the role of the se­nior NCO in the U.S. mil­i­tary ser­vice,” Sgt. Roy said.

Point­ing to the chevrons on his sleeve, he said: “They did not un­der­stand that a chief mas­ter sergeant as the se­nior en­listed leader of the Pa­cific Com­mand is not a com­man­der.

“I thought it was a very good di­a­logue. They in­vited us back, and we ex­pect them to come here on a re­cip­ro­cal visit. It needs to go both ways.”

LI­AI­SON: Chief Mas­ter Sgt. James Roy of the Air Force, se­nior en­listed leader of the U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand, is briefed in Nan­jing by an of­fi­cer of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army of China.

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