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    Greater China
     Oct 21, 2005
Rumsfeld sets new China tone
By Jing-dong Yuan

MONTEREY, California - Even as he visited the headquarters of the People's Liberation Army Second Artillery Corps (SAC), China's strategic missile command - the first US defense secretary ever to do so - Donald Rumsfeld warned China that the secretive nature of its military expansion was raising global suspicions.

Therein lies an inherent problem in the US's ties with China. While political ties have taken a turn for the better since September 11, 2001, with regular summit meetings and high-level exchanges,



military exchanges have remained limited, sporadic and at times acrimonious.

It is of some significance, therefore, that Rumsfeld concluded his three-day visit to China on Thursday with an agreement with his Chinese counterparts to expand contacts and engagement between the world's most powerful and the largest (and modernizing) militaries.

Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan and Rumsfeld agreed to "join hands to upgrade Sino-US military ties and make them consistent with overall bilateral relations".

While in Beijing, Rumsfeld also engaged China's future party leaders at a seminar at the Central Party School, where he called on China to take greater responsibility in world affairs and also develop a more open and transparent society.

In this, he echoed the message repeated by administration officials over the past few months - that China is at a critical crossroads and its direction has important implications for the world.

It is for this precise reason that there has been a spurt in diplomatic activity between the two countries. President George W Bush is scheduled to visit Beijing next month. Earlier this week, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan made his first trip to China, along with US Treasury Secretary John Snow. Earlier, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dropped by, followed by her deputy, Robert Zoellick, to launch a senior-level dialogue on strategic issues.

Rumsfeld's SAC visit is a major step toward greater bilateral military exchanges and reciprocity, even though the Pentagon's request to tour China's real military command center in the Western Hills was denied by the Chinese government.

The Bush administration began its first term in office viewing China as a potential strategic competitor. Bilateral military ties, which had never been close and stable, were further downgraded in the aftermath of the April 2001 EP-3 incident, in which a US naval spy aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter plane, resulting in the death of the Chinese pilot and the temporary detention of the 24 American crew members.

The lack of engagement between the two militaries allows deeply held suspicions, worst-case scenarios and unfounded presumption to dictate policy. Beijing views US defense transformation and global posturing as attempts at encirclement. The Pentagon is building strong military ties with countries on China's periphery, in particular with Japan and India. The US military presence now extends from Southeast Asia to Central Asia.

Washington is also concerned over China's military modernization. Administration officials, including Rumsfeld, express alarm about Beijing's growing defense spending and military buildup that is seen as tilting the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait and beyond and potentially threatening US interests in the region.

Speaking at the Central Party School, which top communist cadres attend, Rumsfeld said, "A growth in China's power projection understandably leads other nations to question intentions and to adjust their behavior in some fashion."

A recent Pentagon report said that while China claimed to have a military budget of US$30 billion, it was probably three times bigger. China responded by saying this was interference in China's internal affairs, and that the US military budget was the biggest in the world, topping $400 billion a year.

Uncertainty over the implications of China's rise is understandable. But exaggeration of China's current capabilities and, worse still, deliberate distortion of Beijing's intentions could lead to policies that would alienate Beijing, threaten regional peace and stability, and be harmful to America's own interests.

For instance, China has the world's largest military and its defense modernization over the past two decades has resulted in improved equipment, better training and a more mechanized and integrated force.

But even with these achievements, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) remains a military with limited force-projection capability. Its foreign military procurement in recent years has enabled the PLA to leapfrog in selected areas and develop pockets of excellence, but it is also an indication of the deficiency of a domestic defense industrial base that has yet to meet the requirements of the Chinese military.

Rumsfeld's visit should jump-start more candid discussion at the highest military level on these issues and concerns. The first priority should be to prevent misperception, misunderstanding, miscalculation and misjudgment between the two militaries. On the Taiwan issue, with the US-Japan security alliance and Chinese military modernization, Washington and Beijing cannot afford missteps. Rumsfeld's visit should go some way towards preventing them.

Dr Jing-dong Yuan is director of Research for East Asia Non-Proliferation Program at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, where he is also an associate professor of international policy studies.

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing .)


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