EXPANDING CHINA MILITARY TIES
Despite tensions over Chinese military cyberattacks and destabilizing island-building in the South China Sea, the Obama administration is hoping to use the visit next week by Chinese President Xi Jinping to expand military exchanges.
Pentagon officials were hoping to conclude an agreement in time for the summit that would outline so-called “rules of the road” for U.S.-China military aircraft encounters.
As of this week, however, talks between Pentagon and Chinese military officials on minimizing dangers during aerial encounters remained bogged down by Beijing’s demands that the U.S. military halt all surveillance flights near Chinese coasts. The Pentagon so far has refused to agree to the limits, according to U.S. officials familiar with the summit planning.
A Chinese jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. P-8 surveillance jet in August 2014 over the South China Sea. The incident triggered the effort to reduce the dangers of aerial intercepts. A U.S.China agreement on sea encounters has been reached, but an aerial accord remains elusive.
The Obama administration wants expanded military exchanges with China to be a key “deliverable” for the Xi visit, despite the concerns over China’s cyberhacking and island-building. The summit, like regular talks known as the strategic and economic dialogue, is expected to be strong on atmospherics but short on substance.
The Obama administration has prepared sanctions against China for its damaging hacking operation against the Office of Personnel Management networks that compromised sensitive personnel information on some 22 million federal workers. The sanctions will be announced after Mr. Xi’s visit.
The Chinese leader’s visit begins September 25 and includes a formal White House state dinner, an event traditionally reserved for leaders of U.S. allies and friends. A White House statement said Mr. Xi’s visit will “present an opportunity to expand U.S.-China cooperation on a range of global, regional, and bilateral issues of mutual interest.” The areas were not specified.
The statement also said the two leaders would “address areas of disagreement constructively,” a hint at the coming sanctions over the OPM hack.
Summit preparations have been underway for weeks, with National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, making visits to Beijing.
A Chinese delegation visited Washington last week and was led by Meng Jianzhu, secretary of the Communist Party Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. Mr. Meng was told about U.S. plans for the impending sanctions.
The administration’s plan for expanded U.S.-China military ties is a political slap at two key members of Congress who earlier this year called for scaling back or suspending the military exchanges over concerns they are boosting Chinese war-fighting capabilities and rewarding Beijing’s threatening behavior.
Rep. Randy J. Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on sea power, has said the military exchanges should be scaled back because they are not improving Chinese behavior.
“There is no indication that more engagement has helped to shape Beijing’s action in a positive direction consistent with U.S. objectives,” Mr. Forbes wrote to the Pentagon in December.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain in February told the Pentagon U.S. aircraft carriers should not be allowed to make port visits to China.
“Sending such a platform to China would be seen as an international display of respect to China and its navy, despite Beijing’s recent record of aggressive behavior in the East and South China Seas,” the Arizona Republican wrote to Pentagon leaders, noting “China’s continued use of coercion to pursue its territorial claims.”
The plan to expand military ties appears to be the latest example of an administration policy of ignoring Congress’ security concerns about China.
After announcing a planned cut of some 300,000 troops, China’s military is beefing up its naval and cyberwarfare forces, according to veteran China analyst Willy Lam.
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the troop cut during the September 3 World War II commemoration as a propaganda measure designed to reduce regional fears of growing Chinese hegemony.
Mr. Lam, writing in the newsletter East-Asia-Intel.com, said Beijing defense sources disclosed plans to beef up naval forces by 50,000 troops by the end of the decade. The current force level is around 255,000, he said.
People’s Liberation Army troop reductions will be taken from auxiliary forces, such as medical, engineering and entertainment units, he said.
China’s military strategy has placed a strong emphasis on expanding naval power with ships, submarines and missiles.
China is expanding global naval deployments. Five Chinese naval vessels made an unprecedented deployment to the Bering Strait earlier this month timed to coincide with President Obama’s visit to Alaska. The warships came within 12 miles of the Alaska coast.
The president made no mention of the Chinese naval deployment. Instead, he warned of the dangers of melting glaciers, which he attributed to global warming.
Another key Chinese strategic weapon being beefed up with additional funds and personnel is the secretive cyberwarfare unit within the military.
“President Xi, who chairs the [Chinese Communist Party’s] Central Leading Group on Cyberspace Affairs, has taken a personal interest in enhancing China’s ability to conduct cyberwarfare against countries and regions including the United States and Taiwan,” Mr. Lam stated.
Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.