Monday, 11 February, 2008

Pace in China, urging joint ops, better ties

The Pentagon’s top general arrived in Beijing Thursday on a visit that follows recent U.S. concerns over China’s booming defense spending and the successful test of an anti-satellite weapon.

In his first visit to China as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace went directly into meetings with Defense Minister Gen. Cao Gangchuan and other top leaders of China’s 2.3 million-member armed forces.

His four-day visit also includes a seminar at the Military Science Academy, visits to military installations and meetings with regional military leaders in the northern city of Shenyang and Nanjing in the east.

China earlier this month announced a 17.8 percent annual rise in defense spending to about $45 billion, prompting calls from Washington and Tokyo for Beijing to show greater transparency about its military aims. The funding jump was the highest since 1995, although experts believe real Chinese defense spending may be much higher.

January’s test, in which a Chinese missile warhead blew a defunct Chinese weather satellite apart, also was strongly criticized. U.S. officials said it called into question China’s self-proclaimed opposition to the weaponization of outer space.

However, in a news conference Wednesday, Pace said he did not regard China as a threat and hoped to further rebuild military ties that have languished since an in-air collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese jet fighter over the South China Sea in 2001.

He said he would urge additional joint search-and-rescue exercises and expand contacts between officers, including having junior officers from China and the U.S. attend courses together.

“When you get to know each other and know how each other thinks, you build trust and confidence,” Pace told reporters in Japan, a close U.S. ally where he began his regional tour. “I’m looking for ways to respect China as a nation that deserves respect.”

Recent months have seen the People’s Liberation Army move tentatively to re-engage with the U.S. military, beginning with an invitation last year to observe war games from the former commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. William J. Fallon.

That was followed by a joint search-and-rescue exercise and the restoration of consultation mechanisms on maritime security, humanitarian disaster relief and military environmental protection.

Most recently, U.S. and Chinese ships joined those from other nations in anti-terrorism drills hosted by Pakistan.

Reporting Pace’s arrival, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said the visit was the “latest sign of the warming ties between the two armed forces.”

However, the report also cited as an example of obstacles facing the relationship the U.S. plan to sell 218 AMRAAM medium range air-to-air missiles and another 235 Maverick missiles to Taiwan, the self-governing island that China has vowed to unify with by force if necessary.

Washington is Taiwan’s main arms supplier and is legally bound to respond to threats against it.

Pace was welcomed with a full-dress arrival ceremony at the Chinese Defense Ministry in western Beijing. Along with Cao, he was due to meet with Gen. Liang Guanglie, chief of the PLA’s General Staff Department, and Gen. Guo Boxiong, China’s top general.

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