- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

Pentagon officials are hoping that members of Congress will notice that the senior admiral in charge of the U.S. Pacific Command set the stage for violating congressional limits on military exchanges with China by recently offering to help Beijing build an aircraft carrier.

Adm. Tim Keating, the U.S. Pacific Command leader, told reporters during his visit to China last month that while building and operating a carrier battle group is complex, the United States is willing to help.

“We would, if they choose to develop [an aircraft-carrier program], help them to the degree that they seek and the degree that we’re capable, in developing their programs,” Adm. Keating said.

The first of the 12 restrictions outlined in a 2000 defense authorization law bars all military exchanges with China that might enhance “force projection operations” - of which aircraft carrier battle groups are the most visible. The law was enacted to limit military exchanges with China, which continues to view the U.S. as its main enemy, and to prevent visits that could help China build up its armed forces.

Capt. Jeff Alderson, a Pacific Command spokesman, said Adm. Keating is aware of the congressional restrictions.

“The offer of help was more philosophical, like how hard it is and the ramifications that a carrier would have on neighboring countries in the region,” he said.

Officials who are concerned with China’s arms buildup were sharply critical of Adm. Keating for the offer of help, calling the remark astounding and noting that China recently stole highly sensitive technology related to an advanced aircraft carrier catapult system through the spy ring headed by convicted Chinese agent Chi Mak, a defense contractor in California.

Critics say the comments are a sign that the U.S.-China military exchange program is spinning out of control under Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, who recently hosted a visit to the U.S. by Chinese Adm. Wu Shengli. Adm. Wu visited a U.S. aircraft carrier - a move that defense officials say may have been the starting point for the Chinese interest in U.S. help with developing a carrier.

Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the admiral’s search for dialogue on carriers with China may be understandable, but that “Admiral Wu’s reported expertise is in sinking American carriers, and the People’s Liberation Army is deploying layers of anti-ship ballistic missiles, deep sea mines, submarines and cruise missiles for that job.” “So why on earth even suggest we can help China build carriers?” he said.

Gates speech Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrives in Singapore today for a speech tomorrow to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, hosted by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies. Officials familiar with a draft of the speech say it will have little to say about Asia, much less China and its military buildup.

Instead, the secretary, unless he revised the remarks while flying across the Pacific, will focus on U.S. efforts to wage the global war on terrorism.

Pentagon officials said China was urged by U.S. officials to send a defense ministry-level official to the annual meeting, which will include a number of regional defense chiefs. The Chinese government declined.

During a stopover yesterday in Hawaii, Mr. Gates nevertheless called on Beijing to be more transparent and explain its military buildup.

“One of the central themes of everyone who is talking to the Chinese is more transparency,” he told reporters. “Tell us more about where you’re headed, what are your intentions…. That’s the real issue” Submarine secrets A new book by veteran defense reporter Ed Offley sheds light on one of the secrets of the not-so Cold War: the loss of the nuclear attack submarine USS Scorpion and its 99-man crew in the eastern Atlantic on May 22, 1968.

“The Scorpion sinking is not a mystery,” Mr. Offley said in an interview. “It is a Cold War secret that has been buried by both the U.S. and Soviet governments since 1968.” Mr. Offley said the Scorpion was attacked by a torpedo fired by a Soviet submarine during an underwater battle, two months after the loss of the Soviet Golf-II-class submarine K-129 and all hands. Moscow had blamed that loss on overaggressive U.S. anti-submarine warfare efforts.

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