Pen­tagon-China talks

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security -

The Pen­tagon is qui­etly set to re­sume for­mal de­fense talks with the Chi­nese mil­i­tary that were cut off in Oc­to­ber over Bei­jing’s anger at U.S. arms sales to Tai­wan.

How­ever, De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates has told China he won’t go to Bei­jing un­til a se­nior Chi­nese de­fense of­fi­cial first vis­its Wash­ing­ton. Mr. Gates told Chi­nese Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian in Sin­ga­pore ear­lier this month, when an agree­ment was reached on hold­ing the next round of De­fense Con­sul­ta­tive Talks, that he would not ac­cept the in­vi­ta­tion to visit Bei­jing un­til af­ter China sends its de­fense min­is­ter or an equiv­a­lent of­fi­cial to Wash­ing­ton.

“The sec­re­tary said he would be glad to re­turn to Bei­jing once his coun­ter­part or equiv­a­lent there were to make a trip to Wash­ing­ton, where there is a stand­ing in­vi­ta­tion for him to come,” said Pen­tagon Press Sec­re­tary Ge­off Mor­rell.

It is one of the few times that the Pen­tagon has im­posed con­di­tions for a U.S. mil­i­tary ex­change with China. In most cases, China’s mil­i­tary makes de­mands for vis­its.

Mr. Mor­rell said the is­sue for the sec­re­tary is rec­i­proc­ity.

Mr. Gates last vis­ited China in 2007 and met with Chi­nese De­fense Min­is­ter Cao Gangchuan, who has not vis­ited the United States since 2003.

The De­fense Con­sul­ta­tive Talks, which be­gan in 1997, will be held in Bei­jing from June 23 to 24 and led by Michele A. Flournoy, un­der­sec­re­tary of de­fense for pol­icy. Also ex­pected to be part of the del­e­ga­tion is the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new deputy as­sis­tant de­fense sec­re­tary in charge of China pol­icy, Michael Schif­fer, a pro­gram of­fi­cer at the non­profit Stan­ley Foun­da­tion.

Mr. Mor­rell said the next round of talks will seek to “re-en­gage” on a range of top­ics af­ter the hia­tus. He did not spec­ify what was on the agenda.

The last talks took place in De­cem­ber 2007 in Bei­jing.

The de­fense talks come amid height­ened ten­sions over Chi­nese naval ha­rass­ment of U.S. ocean sur­veil­lance ships in the South China Sea and Yel­low Sea.

The most se­ri­ous in­ci­dent in­volved sev­eral Chi­nese ves­sels sail­ing dan­ger­ously close to the USNS Im­pec­ca­ble in March near Hainan is­land.

China, for its part, cut off all de­fense talks af­ter the Pen­tagon an­nounced it planned to sell $6.5 bil­lion in weapons to Tai­wan un­der long-stand­ing U.S. pol­icy to pro­vide for Tai­wan’s de­fense needs. China re­gards the is­land as a break­away prov­ince and op­poses the arms sales.

Mr. Mor­rell said China ap­pears to have backed off the naval ha­rass­ment, which China claimed was de­fen­sive in na­ture. “We’ve seen an im­prove­ment in the be­hav­ior of Chi­nese ships in terms of their in­ter­ac­tion with us in those wa­ters,” he said, not­ing that the is­sue was not raised by Mr. Gates in his dis­cus­sion with Gen. Ma in Sin­ga­pore.

The U.S. goal in mil­i­tary ex- changes with China has been to de­velop bet­ter re­la­tions with the com­mu­nist-ruled mil­i­tary. How­ever, de­fense of­fi­cials in­volved in the talks say for the most part, the Chi­nese re­peat pre­pared talk­ing points and do not en­gage in a di­a­logue.

Sev­eral high-rank­ing U.S. mil­i­tary vis­i­tors re­cently trav­eled to China, in­clud­ing Chief of Naval Op­er­a­tions Adm. Gary Roug­head. But few se­nior Chi­nese mil­i­tary leaders have come to the United States in re­cent months.

In 2006, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao told Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush that the com­man­der of China’s nu­clear forces would visit the U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand. How­ever, the com­man­der, Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, has never vis­ited the U.S.

Mr. Mor­rell said Mr. Gates is en­cour­aged by lower-level talks on U.S.-China strate­gic is­sues.

How­ever, for the past 10 years, U.S. mil­i­tary re­quests to visit the un­der­ground Chi­nese mil­i­tary com­mand cen­ter at West­ern Hills in Bei­jing have been turned down. The fa­cil­ity is be­lieved to house 250 to as many as 1,000 mil­i­tary per­son­nel and is con­sid­ered China’s Pen­tagon.

Mr. Mor­rell said Mr. Gates will travel to Asia later this year and could visit China if a Chi­nese mil­i­tary leader first comes to Wash­ing­ton.

Mr. Gates fa­vors ex­changes and talks as a way of pro­mot­ing mil­i­tary di­a­logue and trans­parency, he said.

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