- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

Military exchange halt

The Pentagon’s military exchange program with China suffered another setback this week when a Chinese general announced that military visits and port calls by ships will not resume until the announced $6.5 billion U.S. arms package to Taiwan is canceled.

Chinese Maj. Gen. Qian Lihua, director of the Defense Ministry foreign affairs office, stated that China wants the Pentagon to end arms sales, which are required under U.S. law.

“We demand the U.S. change its ways, cancel its plans to sell weapons to Taiwan and stop its exchanges with the Taiwanese military. Only if they do so can the [People’s Liberation Army] and ministry of national defense resume normal relations with their U.S. counterparts,” Gen. Qian was quoted as saying in the Financial Times.

China suspended all military exchanges with the Pentagon in early October, and appeals from defense officials to reconsider were rejected by Beijing officials. Gen. Qian’s demand to end Taiwan arms sales is a new wrinkle for China in expressing its anger over the arms sales after the suspension of military-to-military contacts was announced Oct. 7, affecting several planned visits and ship port calls.

The military-to-military program suspension scuttles efforts by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to expand the program over the past two years. Mr. Gates regarded the military exchanges as an important way to “build trust” with China’s military, a defense official said.

The exchange suspension caught many Pentagon policymakers by surprise, as they had not expected the reaction. The arms sales do not include help with building submarines or new sales of advanced F-16s and were items announced for sale as early as 2001.

Asked about Gen. Qian’s demand, Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, said the Pentagon values its military-to-military ties to China “and in particular our exchanges with the PLA,” as the military is called.

The Pentagon would “welcome the resumption of those exchanges and other military activities with China because they provide excellent opportunities to enhance our understanding of each other’s military plans and intentions and to build mutual trust and confidence,” Mr. Morrell said.

However, U.S. policy toward Taiwan is “longstanding, well understood and will continue,” he said.

“Furthermore, our arms sales to Taiwan are a normal, stabilizing and responsible measure to assist in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the broader East Asia region,” he said.

The rift on exchanges curtailed one interagency group that had planned to brief the Chinese military on the annual report to Congress on China’s military power. The Pentagon in the past resisted Chinese efforts to influence the report, which Beijing has opposed as fostering a threatening view of China.

The visit by a group of officials from the office of the secretary of defense, Defense Intelligence Agency and office of the director of national intelligence has not been rescheduled.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong had no comment on the halt in military exchanges.

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