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Division rejected

The senior Air Force commander in the Pacific this week threw cold water on a Chinese military proposal to divide up the Pacific Ocean into U.S. and Chinese spheres of influence.

Gen. Paul V. Hester was asked about China’s recent plan to give the United States control of the eastern Pacific region, while China would control the western Pacific.

“Our policy is not to cede space to anyone,” Gen. Hester said in a telephone press conference from Hawaii.

He said the United States “needs to be” in the western Pacific, “as opposed to running through a proxy, if you will, by ceding a certain part of territory and asking them to take care of it for us.”

The proposal was made to Adm. Tim Keating, the overall commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, during a recent visit to China.

Some pro-China officials in the U.S. government, including in the intelligence community, are said to favor the Chinese proposal. But defense officials say such appeasement would be a huge mistake since it would be tantamount to giving China complete hegemony in the western Pacific, a move that would severely undermine U.S. alliances in Asia and threaten the neutrality of vital sea lanes.

Missile defense

The Pentagon and State Department recently published a report explaining the need to set up a third ground-based interceptor site in Eastern Europe to counter the growing threat of long-range missiles from rogue states.

The report was produced to better explain why the Pentagon wants to build a 10-missile interceptor site in Poland by 2011 to 2013, and a midcourse tracking and discrimination radar in Czech Republic by 2011. Talks are under way for the system.

The report states that the threat from missiles “is real and growing” and notes that in 1972 only nine states deployed ballistic missiles while by 2006 the number had grown to 25 nations.

The number of states with missiles capable of attacking U.S. allies and U.S. territory has increased from five states to nine, with Iran and North Korea the most worrisome.

“If Europe is not secure, the United States is not secure,” the report stated.

The report notes that to protect against missile attacks, “we need defenses stationed and operational in Europe before a threat fully emerges.”

In addition to North Korea’s long-range Taepodong-2 missile, the report identified another major threat as Iran’s Shahab-3 medium-range missile, which was test-fired in November during Iran’s “Great Prophet II” exercises. The Shahab-3 has a range of about 800 miles, enough to hit targets in Israel and Turkey. Additionally, Iran is developing longer-range missiles, including a 1,240-mile range Shahab and eventually intercontinental-range missiles.

“We cannot afford to be surprised by waking up one day and discovering that Iran has an [intercontinental ballistic missile] capability,” the report stated.

The report shows that the Polish-Czech site would not “catch” any Russian ICBMs, but would protect all European NATO allies from attack against a long-range missile fired from the Middle East.

U.S. denied access

The Pentagon is disappointed that U.S. military observers were barred from observing the major China-led military exercise in Russia this month called Peace Mission 2007. It was held under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an emerging anti-U.S. alliance of China, Russia and several Central Asian nations.

The exercises began Aug. 9 in China’s western province and moved to Russia with 6,000 troops from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

“Our inability to observe Peace Mission 2007 is a missed opportunity,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. “Moreover, it underscores that there is a long way to go in terms of China’s willingness to afford the United States access, transparency and reciprocity in the same manner and spirit we have demonstrated, for example, with our opening of Valiant Shield to PRC observers in 2006.”

Chinese military personnel were given unprecedented access to U.S. military forces during the major naval exercise last year.

Mr. Whitman noted that despite the recent snub, “we have seen incremental improvement in PRC transparency in military and security affairs.”

Richard Fisher, a specialist with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said it was a mistake to give the Chinese access to Valiant Shield because Beijing will use the intelligence gained in any future combat, and because there was no reciprocity.

“The [People’s Liberation Army] does not reciprocate by allowing us to observe Peace Mission because they view us a potential combatant, and do not want to give away any insights about them,” Mr. Fisher said, noting the snub argues for demanding “strict reciprocity” in all military exchanges with China.

“The operating assumption here is if we make nice with the nasty guard dog, the master will like us more,” he said. “China’s communist leadership is and will be forever hostile to democracies, and will never allow its PLA to be nice to any enemy.”

DNI on China

Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell weighed in on the debate over the threat from a rising China this week and appears to favor the soft-line approach favored by Tom Fingar, the deputy director for analysis.

Mr. McConnell said there are multiple schools of thought on China that “tend to take on a political flavor.”

“There are some who want to paint China as the next Soviet Union or Russia, and there are some that want to embrace China as a market, not only a provider of goods and services to us but that raise our standard of living by reducing cost to us, but provide a huge market for the United States,” he said.

Mr. McConnell said his view tends toward the economic side, noting that China will be the “No. 1” largest economy in the next 20 years.

China’s major problem, he said, is “internal stability,” something most communist regimes have not had much trouble handling, whether through secret police or as in China’s case, the bloody 1989 crackdown by military forces on unarmed protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

As for China’s rapid military buildup of long-range missiles, submarines and space weapons, “I would characterize it, for the most part, while it has offensive capabilities, for the most part right now, it is defensive, and their principle focus is on Taiwan, bringing Taiwan into China, and the ability to have access to natural resources.”

China is building deep-sea naval forces that appear designed to acquire energy resources, he said.

“So it’s something we’ll watch very closely,” Mr. McConnell said, noting that “China will be probably the most important nation to the United States” in the coming years.

Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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