- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2007

China“s military recently turned down a request by the United States to see the new Chinese J-10 fighter but allowed visits to two operational fighter bases, the commander of Pacific Air Forces said yesterday.

Gen. Paul V. Hester also told reporters that China continues to conduct aerial jet intercepts of patrolling U.S. surveillance aircraft near Chinese coast, but the fighters stayed at safe distances to avoid collisions like the one that took place in 2001.

Gen. Hester, who visited China for several days beginning July 23, said China continues to hide much of its military buildup and will not answer questions about the pace and scope of the force modernization, prompting concerns for the United States.

There”s still a lot of unknowns and unanswered questions, if you will. As you have conversations with them, about where are you going in terms of what is your vision, he said in a telephone press conference with reporters. There is certainly not much in the way of solid answers to that question of what is vision for your military and where will it lead you.

The four-star general also said two B-2 bombers last week flew to Guam on a simulated attack mission and were on their way back to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. The deployment gave rise to some speculation among U.S. officials that the bombers could be used in raids against al Qaeda targets in Pakistan.

Guam is a major U.S. military base in the western Pacific that U.S. officials say plays a key role in the new U.S. hedge strategy of being ready to confront China in the future.

We deploy people on missions all the time, especially bombers, on long-range practice strike missions, all the time, Gen. Hester said. And these bombers [that] flew out of here are headed back home.

The April 2001 collision between a Chinese J-7 jet and a U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft near the coast of southern China led to the loss of a Chinese pilot and the near loss of the crew of 23 U.S. military personnel, who made an emergency landing on Hainan island and were imprisoned by the Chinese military.

They were released 11 days later.

The incident was the first crisis of the Bush administration and led to a cutoff of military exchanges. In recent months, the U.S. military has stepped up exchanges with China in an effort to improve relations between the two militaries.

Gen. Hester said the Chinese intercepts of U.S. surveillance aircraft have all been professionally done.

They have run their intercepts in accordance with fairly clear rules of engagement that have been established worldwide by those who feel they are defending their coastline by escorting foreign visitors, he said.

Gen. Hester said his recent visit was a step toward prompting the Chinese military to be more open. He visited the Chinese air force command college in Beijing and traveled to Nanjing, in southeastern China and visited a regional air command center.

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