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Inside the Ring

- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 29, 2010

HONG KONG.

China and nuclear talks

China is not interested in holding strategic nuclear weapons talks with the United States, and military relations between the two nations generally remain stymied, a senior State Department official said during a visit to this former British colony.

Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, said the United States in the past 10 years has moved forward on a range of dialogues with Beijing on such issues as climate change, human rights, North Korea and Iran.

"Lagging behind that is the dialogue between our two militaries," Mr. Campbell said after a speech sponsored by the East-West Center. "And lagging further beyond that is a dialogue on nuclear issues."

The Pentagon's recent Nuclear Posture Review called for holding high-level talks with China aimed at improving strategic relations. The report said the talks are needed to allay fears in Asia and the United States about China's strategic intentions.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said he regards strategic nuclear talks with China as potentially similar to the arms talks with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Mr. Campbell said there is a range of reasons for the problem between the two militaries.

"We think one of the things that is most important for the next phase of nuclear diplomacy is to engage more closely with Chinese friends, not just on strategic nuclear issues but greater dialogue and cooperation on proliferation and other matters as well," Mr. Campbell said.

China's military cut off ties in October 2008 and again in January to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. However, U.S. officials here said one interesting twist to the most recent Chinese cutoff is that Beijing permitted the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to visit here in February, a signal to U.S. officials that the cutoff in military exchanges is likely to resume soon.

Mr. Campbell said military ties with China "need to be resumed and … they should be regularized."

"There is a start-stop quality in the past, and we seek to establish a more steady momentum and we believe that an essential missing element in our high-level dialogue has been the military-to-military component," he said. "And we believe that they should be resumed at the nearest possible time."

Chinese media control

A Chinese editor who was pressured out of her position last year after reporting on governmental financial corruption said she is not looking back on her departure and doesn't regard China's media today as an instrument of the communist state.

Hu Shuli said in her first public speech in Hong Kong that China needs "quality" journalism to expose corruption. Late last year, she resigned from Caijing Monthly (Business and Finance Review) along with most of the rest of the staff. On Tuesday, she declined to say why, citing "complicated" reasons.

Ms. Hu, a former communist Red Guard revolutionary who took part in the Cultural Revolution before becoming a reporter, noted that past investigative reporting included disclosures of illegal financial activities related to mutual funds and the illegal privatization of state assets.

Asked by Inside the Ring after her speech how she planned to deal with a system that regards the news media as an instrument of the state, Ms. Hu said she disagreed that current news outlets in China are monolithic mouthpieces for Beijing.

"The media in China today is very, very diversified," she said. "You can see a lot of different voices. You cannot take the media as having one voice."

Thirty years ago, China's media were a monolith for the state, "but not now," Ms. Hu said.

Ms. Hu and her publications have been pushing the envelope of press freedom by reporting on corruption, which in many cases involves Chinese communist leaders or their relatives and thus takes political overtones.

However, in China it is illegal for news outlets to report critically about the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders, and the government censors all press and the Internet for unfavorable news content.

China watchers in Hong Kong said Ms. Hu was pressured out of her post at Caijing after running afoul of communist leaders by exposing financial improprieties of at least one relative of a former high-ranking communist leader.

Ms. Hu said she was looking past the trouble at the financial news outlet in launching her venture, Caixin Media Co., which publishes Century Weekly and China Reform.

"We are back," she said during a luncheon speech at an international journalists conference at Hong Kong University.

Taiwan and China

A U.S. official involved in Taiwan affairs said the island's leaders recently rejected a proposal from mainland China to try a series of confidence-building measures aimed at reducing military tensions.

Tensions between China and Taiwan have been reduced as a result of closer economic and trade relations, but military tensions remain across the 100-mile-wide strait, where China has deployed some 1,500 missiles and shows no signs of reducing its fielding of about 50 new missiles a year within range of Taiwan.

China had proposed trying to set up a telephone hot line and notification of military exercises, but Taiwan's leaders turned down the requests amid concerns over criticism from opposition political leaders that the measures would undermine security.

"They think such measures would spook the Taiwanese people," the official said.

The official said Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has urgently requested that the United States go ahead with its request for additional F-16 jet fighter sales to bolster its aging fleet of jets.

The Obama administration earlier this year approved sales of Black Hawk helicopters, missile defenses and minesweeping warships, but has yet to rule on offering the F-16s.

PLA garrison

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has deployed between 4,000 and 8,000 troops to this former British colony, but the troops have remained hidden in this bustling financial metropolis.

The PLA headquarters is located right next to the city's financial center in a building that used to be owned by the British army and once housed the offices of its intelligence service, MI-6.

China took control of Hong Kong in 1997 and has been quietly imposing its control, albeit indirectly, over the once democratic state. The main control mechanisms are the Chinese Communist Party liaison office, located in a new building along the waterfront in western Hong Kong, and the PLA, which in addition to its headquarters, has tanks and armored personnel carriers based in several locations, mainly on the mainland portion of Hong Kong.

China calls its arrangement in Hong Kong "one-country, two systems," which it says will allow the vibrant capitalism of the city to continue.

However, Hong Kong is holding on to its status of China's wealthiest city. It is financially controlled by several billionaire real estate developers, including Li Ka-shing, whose Hutchison Whampoa still owns port facilities at each end of the Panama Canal, in addition to other ports around the world.

A defense official said the PLA has kept a low profile since moving into Hong Kong and its senior leaders have rejected invitations from visiting U.S. admirals to meet, sending intelligence and security officials instead.