- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2008

China disconnect

Expanding U.S. military exchanges with China could help reduce an apparent “disconnect” between China’s military and civilian leaders, but caution is needed to guard against possible spying and disinformation efforts. That’s one of the key points in a draft report for the secretary of state by the International Security Advisory Board, a panel of outside experts.

The draft report by a task force headed by Robert Joseph, former undersecretary of state for international security, was obtained by The Washington Times and is expected to be completed in a few weeks. It identifies a “separation” between Chinese political and military leaders that it says has been a cause of concern in the past. It gives as an example the April 2001 incident in which a Chinese interceptor jet flew into a U.S. P-3 surveillance aircraft, killing the Chinese pilot and nearly causing the U.S. plane to crash.

“The disconnect between China’s civilian leadership and the [People’s Liberation Army] may have contributed to potentially dangerous incidents,” the report states, noting as an example “the forced landing of the P-3 in 2001.”

“While clearly an internal matter for China, addressing this disconnect could reduce the prospects for miscalculation and misunderstanding,” it states.

A U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity said another example of a lack of unity between civilian and military leaders came in November, when Chinese officials at the last minute turned away the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk from a Thanksgiving Day port call to Hong Kong planned months in advance. There also were differing official Chinese explanations for a January 2007 anti-satellite weapon test.

The report recommends that the U.S. military expand military-to-military exchanges, dialogue and cooperative efforts in part to resolve such problems.

“In doing so, U.S. planners and participants must remain cognizant that China could use such confidence-building measures to collect intelligence and spawn disinformation,” the report says.

The defense official said China has used military exchanges in the past to present misinformation about Chinese military capabilities. One visiting U.S. defense team in the late 1990s was shown an older air defense missile site, rather than China’s more advanced missile systems, in an apparent attempt at “strategic deception” about Chinese military capabilities, he said.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong had no immediate comment.

Congress restricted U.S.-China military exchanges in 1999 by passing a law that prohibits any contacts that would “create a national security risk due to an inappropriate exposure.” A section of the fiscal 2000 defense authorization bill bars U.S. military exchanges related to force projection operations, nuclear operations, advanced combined-arms and joint combat operations, advanced logistical operations, weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities, surveillance reconnaissance operations, joint war fighting, military space, advanced military capabilities, arms sales and technology transfer, classified data and access to Pentagon laboratories.

The restrictions were imposed after a visiting Chinese officer asked and was told by a U.S. Navy officer the most vulnerable point on an aircraft carrier. Soon after, U.S. intelligence agencies reported that China had bought advanced wake-homing torpedoes from Russia, according to defense and congressional officials.

The report also recommends that U.S. officials, during interaction with the Chinese, encourage civilian leaders to mandate senior military officers’ participation in senior governance bodies as a precondition for promotion while encouraging Chinese Communist Party leaders to take part in military decision-making councils as a condition for their advancement.

The report states that Chinese civilian leaders appear to understand Americans but that Chinese military leaders suffer from “clear paranoia and misperceptions” about U.S. goals.

The full task force report can be read here.

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