Tags: Rumsfeld: | China | U-Turn | Misunderstanding

Rumsfeld: China U-Turn a Misunderstanding

Monday, 07 May 2001 12:00 AM

In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Rumsfeld said a memo issued by his office April 30 stating that the Pentagon was suspending indefinitely all military programs involving China had misstated his policy of deciding the fate of such programs on a case-by-case basis. He said the aide who wrote and issued the memo, Christopher Williams, had misinterpreted the policy and issued the memo without Rumsfeld's seeing it beforehand, but he said he was not blaming the aide and took personal responsibility for the memo.

"My intention all along, and Chris' (Williams'), was to surface as many of these (military) relationships as exist, and then look at them on a case-by-case basis, so that some could go forward," Rumsfeld said.

On Thursday, the day after the memo was leaked to the media, the White House confirmed that it had intervened to clear up confusion over U.S. military policy toward China.

The incident comes as tensions with Beijing are escalating. A U.S. surveillance plane is still being held at a Chinese military airport after a midair collision April 1 in which a Chinese pilot was killed, and President Bush recently suggested the United States would unequivocally defend Taiwan against any military attack by China -- a departure from decades of deliberate ambiguity from Washington on its inclination to defend what Beijing considers a renegade province.

The now-abandoned policy would have been the latest in a series of policy steps intended to punish China for detaining the 24-member crew of the Navy EP-3 plane after it collided with the Chinese fighter jet and had to make an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island.

United Press International reported Thursday that an April 8 order from Rumsfeld said military personnel from would no longer accompany congressional delegations to China. Also, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing last month prepared a list of reprisals that could be taken against China to punish it for detaining the U.S. air crew. Severing military ties with China was on the list, a senior congressional staff member said.

Some commentators have said the confusion reveals an administration split over what to do about China.

"It may take months, or years, for the new administration to sort out its China policy," the New York Times' David Sanger wrote in an article published Sunday. "It is clearly deeply divided, trying to appeal to both sides of a Republican Party split between conservatives who want to contain China and business executives who want to engage it. Many more memos may fly before that division is resolved."

Democrats appeared to be holding their fire over the incident.

"It's a new administration and they're getting their footing here," Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday." "I'm not going to jump all over this. Obviously there's some conflict here between the Defense Department and the State Department. ... Obviously they've got to get their signals better coordinated here. The White House has to a better job, probably, of making sure they're all on the same page.

Rumsfeld was asked on "Meet the Press" whether he had in fact drafted a policy of pulling the plug on all U.S.-China military contacts and exchanges, only to change course when others in the administration balked. Program host Tim Russert noted a Los Angeles Times article from Friday that cited a Pentagon official as saying Rumsfeld himself had decided to break all military contacts with China.

But Rumsfeld insisted that a misunderstanding was to blame.

Calling Williams, the memo's writer, "an enormously talented individual" whom he would hire "anyplace, anytime, anywhere," Rumsfeld said: We had a discussion. We left the discussion, and he went off with one interpretation. I had the view that we would be doing (the military-program reviews) on a case-by-case basis.

"It is every bit as much my fault; I was in the room, it's my responsibility, and I think to lay a lot of blame on Chris is certainly not fair."

The defense secretary acknowledged that he had not seen the memo before it was issued and sent to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but said that was not unusual at the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld said that Williams "has been acting in charge of the policy place because we have only one -- by then we had only one confirmed person besides myself in the building -- and he has been acting in the policy role, and he's done a superb job, and he's a first-rate individual."

He also denied news reports that he had told National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, before the memo came out, of an intention to scrap all military programs with China. He also said a report of a similar conversation with Sen. John Warner, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, had been denied by Warner.

"When I became aware that this memorandum had gone out, I said, 'My goodness, I've been doing it on a case-by-case basis, that's my understanding with the president as how I was going to do it,'" Rumsfeld said. "And it's the proper way to do it, it's not business as usual with China, I've been disapproving a series of contacts since I've been secretary of defense."

Rumsfeld said the case-by-case review process is the best policy for the United States in its current standoff with China. He said it made possible the recent trip to Hainan Island by military specialists to assess the damage to the downed U.S. plane.

He also said it might be possible for the plane, whose nose cone was sheared off in the collision, to be repaired and flown back to the United States. "But that's not clear yet," the secretary said. "We'll know later this week."

Williams, who spent nearly 20 years as an aide on Capitol Hill before coming to the Pentagon, reportedly plans to leave to take a job with defense contractor Lockheed Martin, congressional sources told UPI.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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In an interview on NBC's Meet the Press, Rumsfeld said a memo issued by his office April 30 stating that the Pentagon was suspending indefinitely all military programs involving China had misstated his policy of deciding the fate of such programs on a case-by-case basis....
Monday, 07 May 2001 12:00 AM
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