The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

Top govern­ment and mil­i­tary lead­ers hosted a se­nior Chi­nese gen­eral this week, as the com­mu­nist govern­ment is step­ping up harsh rhetoric and blam­ing the United States for new ten­sions in the South China Sea.

People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the gen­eral staff and China’s No. 3 mil­i­tary leader, toured the air­craft car­rier USS Ron­ald Rea­gan in San Diego on May 13. He was in Wash­ing­ton for meet­ings May 14 at the Na­tional De­fense Univer­sity and Pen­tagon as part of a five-day visit.

On the Rea­gan, Gen. Fang met with Adm. Sa­muel J. Lock­lear, com­man­der of the U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand who has sought to play down the grow­ing mil­i­tary threat posed by China.

The four-star ad­mi­ral told a re­porter last year that his big­gest worry in the Pa­cific is not China, but cli­mate change, a key theme of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s agenda.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Gen. Fang on May 15, when the topic of the South China Sea is ex­pected to be a point of con­tention. The two gen­er­als held a press con­fer­ence May 15. Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry called China’s set­ting up of a large oil rig near the dis­puted Para­cel Is­lands “provoca­tive,” ac­cord­ing to a State Depart­ment spokes­woman who re­counted the ex­change be­tween Mr. Kerry and Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi.

The com­ment prompted Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman Hua Chun­y­ing to shoot back: “It is the U.S. com­ing in and mak­ing a se­ries of er­ro­neous re­marks about the is­sue in the wa­ters, en­cour­ag­ing cer­tain coun­tries’ threat­en­ing and provoca­tive be­hav­ior.”

Ear­lier, Ms. Hua ac­cused the U.S. of mak­ing “ir­re­spon­si­ble” com­ments about mar­itime dis­putes and urged Wash­ing­ton to “speak and act cau­tiously.”

Chi­nese spokes­men and state-run press out­lets blamed the U.S. for height­ened ten­sions that have in­cluded Chi­nese pa­trol boats fir­ing wa­ter can­nons at Viet­namese boats and threats against Philip­pines for its ar­rest last week of 11 Chi­nese fish­er­men.

On May 5, the Navy’s 7th Fleet com­mand ship USS Blue Ridge en­coun­tered two Chi­nese war­ships near the dis­puted Scar­bor­ough Shoal, claimed by both the Philip­pines and China.

A fleet spokesman said a he­li­copter from the Blue Ridge pho­tographed a Chi­nese frigate and de­stroyer near the shoal. Ms. Hua bris­tled over a ques­tion about the en­counter. “The Chi­nese side has in­dis­putable sovereignty over the var­i­ous South China Sea is­lands, in­clud­ing [Scar­bor­ough Shoal], and their ad­ja­cent wa­ters,” the spokes­woman said. “Rou­tine pa­trols by Chi­nese naval ves­sels in rel­e­vant wa­ters are jus­ti­fi­able, law­ful, and ab­so­lutely nor­mal. There is no need to make a fuss about that.”

The shoal en­counter ended with­out in­ci­dent, un­like the Dec. 5 near-col­li­sion be­tween the guided mis­sile cruiser USS Cow­pens and a Chi­nese war­ship in the South China Sea.

In that in­ci­dent, the Cow­pens was mon­i­tor­ing China’s new air­craft car­rier, the Liaon­ing, near Hainan Is­land when a Chi­nese am­phibi­ous ship sailed within 100 yards in front of the cruiser and stopped, forc­ing the Cow­pens to veer sharply to avoid a col­li­sion. con­cerns that such vis­its boost the People Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) war-fight­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The Pen­tagon, for more 15 years, has ig­nored the car­rier visit re­stric­tion in the fis­cal 2000 Na­tional De­fense Au­tho­riza­tion Act, even though it was a com­pro­mise dur­ing one of three vis­its to a car­rier in the 1990s that prompted Congress to limit the ex­changes.

Dur­ing a car­rier visit, a Chi­nese of­fi­cer asked a Navy of­fi­cer to iden­tify the ship’s weak­est point. The of­fi­cer naively told him it was un­der­neath the car­rier where am­mu­ni­tion is stored. Within a few years of the in­ci­dent, Bei­jing pur­chased pre­ci­sion-guided tor­pe­does from Rus­sia that could strike the vul­ner­a­ble point.

China re­gards U.S. car­ri­ers as hav­ing the most sig­nif­i­cant power pro­jec­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties. In re­sponse, Bei­jing has de­vel­oped an ar­ray of high-tech­nol­ogy arms to de­feat them, in­clud­ing a unique DF-21D anti-ship bal­lis­tic mis­sile.

Last week’s visit by Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the gen­eral staff, to the USS Ron­ald Rea­gan in San Diego was 11th time the PLA has vis­ited a car­rier since 1994.

Ac­cord­ing to a Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice re­port on Chi­nese mil­i­tary vis­its, eight car­rier vis­its have taken place since the law went into ef­fect. Only once, in 2006, were the Chi­nese blocked from get­ting a close look at a car­rier dur­ing a stop in Hawaii, ac­cord­ing to pub­lished ac­counts.

The re­stric­tions went into ef­fect in Oc­to­ber 1999. The law states that the sec­re­tary of de­fense can­not al­low any Chi­nese mil­i­tary vis­its that would pro­duce “in­ap­pro­pri­ate ex­po­sure” that could as­sist PLA war-fight­ing in 12 pro­hib­ited ar­eas: Force pro­jec­tion op­er­a­tions. Nu­clear op­er­a­tions. Ad­vanced com­bined-arms and joint com­bat op­er­a­tions. Ad­vanced lo­gis­ti­cal op­er­a­tions. Chemical and bi­o­log­i­cal de­fense and other ca­pa­bil­i­ties re­lated to weapons of mass de­struc­tion. Sur­veil­lance and re­con­nais­sance op­er­a­tions. Joint war-fight­ing ex­per­i­ments and other ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to trans­for­ma­tions in war­fare. Mil­i­tary space op­er­a­tions. Other ad­vanced ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the armed forces. Arms sales or mil­i­tary-re­lated tech­nol­ogy trans­fers. Re­lease of clas­si­fied or re­stricted in­for­ma­tion. Ac­cess to a Pen­tagon lab­o­ra­tory. The PLA fre­quently has de­nounced the re­stric­tions, as most Chi­nese mil­i­tary vis­its are dual pur­pose for pro­pa­ganda and in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing.

A Joint Staff spokesman did not re­spond to an email ask­ing if the car­rier visit was le­gal. The Pen­tagon pre­vi­ously has said that lawyers re­view all ex­changes to en­sure com­pli­ance with the re­stric­tions.

“Whether or not it is a vi­o­la­tion of the law, it is sim­ply a mis­take to be giv­ing Gen. Fang and his del­e­ga­tion of in­tel­li­gence ex­perts the ben­e­fit of vis­it­ing the world’s best air­craft car­rier,” said Rick Fisher, a China mil­i­tary af­fairs ex­perts with the In­ter­na­tional As­sess­ment and Strat­egy Cen­ter.

“China’s tra­jec­tory is very clear: It will be pro­ject­ing mil­i­tary power glob­ally against Amer­i­can in­ter­ests by the early 2020s, and we should be do­ing noth­ing to help them.”


People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Gen. Fang Fenghui tours the bridge of the USS Coron­ado in San Diego last week.

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