Tags: Pentagon | Backtracks | Ending | Exchanges | With | China

Pentagon Backtracks on Ending Exchanges With China

Thursday, 03 May 2001 12:00 AM

An embarrassed Defense Department has retracted a memo ordering the suspension of all military contacts with China, saying it had intended all along that the policy to be to review the contacts case by case.

The memo, dated April 30 and signed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's senior assistant for policy Christopher Williams, stated that "the Secretary of Defense has directed the suspension of all DOD programs, contacts and activities with the People's Republic of China until further notice."

Neither China nor the U.S. State Department had been notified about the policy.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said late Wednesday that the author of the memo misinterpreted Rumsfeld's intentions and denied that the Defense Secretary either read or approved the memo.

"Most certainly he did not," Quigley said.

The Pentagon will shortly issue a "clarification" of the policy saying that all military contacts with China would be handled case by case, Quigley said.

He could not explain why it took the Pentagon two days to notice the erroneous policy statement.

"I can't answer your question. I don't know," Quigley told reporters hastily assembled in his office Wednesday evening. "Paper moves slowly."

President Bush on Thursday backed Rumsfeld.

``What the secretary was rightly doing was saying that we're going to review all opportunities to interface with the Chinese, and if it enhances our relationship, it may make sense,'' Bush told reporters. On the other hand, ``if it's a useless exercise,'' then it might not be worth doing, he said.

``What the Chinese must understand is we will be firm in our philosophy, consistent in our beliefs, and we want to work to have a relationship that is a positive relationship for both countries,'' Bush said.

After a difficult month, the administration ``is anxious to get the relationship back on an even keel,'' Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday at a hearing by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Beijing's refusal to return the Navy surveillance plane that crashed April 1 after a Chinese fighter struck it.

``We are trying to calibrate our response to this incident in a very, very careful way to make sure we don't cut off our nose to spite our face, and I think we have done rather well,'' said Powell, known as the most liberal member of Bush's foreign-policy team.

He said the United States was still deciding whether to adopt a stance on Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Urged by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, not to let the crisis interfere with sport, he said, ``We are very sensitive to that, and we have made no decision with respect to this issue.''

A Pentagon spokesman initially said Rumsfeld suspended all military contacts with China to reflect the strained relations that resulted from the plane collision last month.

Williams' memo said it was "not useful" for normal military activities to be conducted while relations were at an ebb.

"At the appropriate time it will be reassessed and adjusted," the now-defunct memo stated.

The memo would have prohibited all manner of contacts including working meetings and social contacts with Chinese officials at their embassy in Washington, and visits by Navy ships to Chinese ports, such as the one in March to Shanghai.

The directive did not apply to Hong Kong, according to the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld has been reviewing the Pentagon's policy toward military relations with China since at least since March.

Quigley told reporters in March - 10 days before the April 1 plane collision - that Rumsfeld has been questioning the worth of the military-to-military relationship with China.

"It is about value to the nation," Quigley said on March 22.

Rumsfeld met with Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen March 22 and spent most of his 45-minute meeting discussing the military-to-military program, according to Quigley.

"Secretary Rumsfeld stressed that from the U.S. perspective that it was very important that these be mutually beneficial to both nations. Reciprocity should be kind of a watchword and a guidepost as we design these things in the months ahead," Quigley said at the time.

But as NewsMax.com has reported, the

The United States and China are not scheduled to have any military contacts this month, except a military maritime consultative council that was pushed back from April. That meeting, which will determine the fate of the crippled American reconnaissance plane still in China, will go ahead as soon as a date is agreed to by both sides.

U.S. Pacific Command Chief Adm. Dennis Blair admitted in March that the Chinese-American military relationship would continue relatively unchanged under Bush and Rumsfeld.

"I had a chance to talk with the secretary about this a couple of weeks ago, and there's no question that the military-to-military program is an important part of the relationship and will continue," Blair said in Beijing on March 15. "But I think that it will be a continuing part of the relationship because it is important to be able to talk face-to-face and see face-to-face the armed forces of each of these two countries."

Blair said, based on his meetings with Bush's national security team, "there will be more elements, I think, of continuity than of change as we move along in the future."

But Blair's comments were made before the Chinese fighter jet hit the Navy EP-3 Aries III signal intelligence aircraft, resulting in the death of the hotdogging fighter pilot, the forced landing of the EP-3 and the 11-day detention of the 24-member American crew on Hainan Island.

The United States had to issue several written apologies before the crew was released.

On Tuesday, a team of U.S. engineers sent to assess damage on the American aircraft was delayed at a Hainan Island airport by a Chinese customs official, who refused to allow them to enter with two satellite phones. Because of the delay, the United States is attempting to negotiate an extra day for the assessment team to do its work.

Bush last week committed the U.S. military to defending Taiwan against Chinese aggression, the first time a president has made such an explicit statement about the role the United States would play in such a conflict. China intends to "reunify" the island republic to the communist mainland.

The U.S. military says it values military-to-military contacts, especially with China, as a means of better understanding each others systems and tactics, and avoiding misunderstandings.

Four years ago, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili gave a speech to China's national defense university pressing for more and better military-to-military contacts.

"To be a fruitful form of engagement, our military-to-military contacts must deepen and become more frequent, more balanced and more developed," he said.

"The mutual interests of China and the United States demand better understanding, clearer communications, greater confidence and deeper cooperation. And military-to-military contacts must be an essential part of all that."

Shalikashvili made these statements just months after the United States sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the South China Sea to demonstrate its concern with a Chinese military exercise in which missiles were lobbed within 30 miles of Taiwan, a time of arguably more tension with China than the last month.

As recently as last summer, then-Defense Secretary William Cohen went to Beijing to continue to repair the U.S. relationship with China, which was seriously frayed by the 1999 bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war.

One of Cohen's top agenda items was promoting the military-to-military relationship; his visit was considered the final indications that military-to-military contacts had been restored after China cut them off after the bombing.

The United States has cut off military contacts with Beijing twice before - in 1989 after the massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and in 1996 after the missile firings.

The abrupt reversal of the policy by the Pentagon reminded reporters of another about-face a year ago.

Then-Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon announced on April 18, 2000, that the Defense Department would be solving the problem of having so many troops eligible for food stamps by tightening the qualifying criteria to make fewer of them eligible for such aid.

After a barrage of critical questions from reporters about the policy, the Pentagon reversed itself later that day, saying it had misunderstood then-Defense Secretary William Cohen's intention: to make food stamps more easily attained by low-paid soldiers.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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An embarrassed Defense Department has retracted a memo ordering the suspension of all military contacts with China, saying it had intended all along that the policy to be to review the contacts case by case. The memo, dated April 30 and signed by Defense Secretary Donald...
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Thursday, 03 May 2001 12:00 AM
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