- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

FLOURNOY IN BEIJING

At the recent U.S.-Chinese defense talks in Beijing, the subject of the Pentagon’s new Air Sea Battle Concept, a program to counter China’s growing anti-access and area denial weapons, was not discussed.

Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters in Beijing on Dec. 8 that there was no mention of the secret defense program in Asia during her talks with Chinese military officials, called the Defense Consultative Talks.

“We did discuss the U.S. posture changes, particularly in Australia,” Ms. Flournoy said.

“That was a very straightforward discussion where I had the chance to explain those moves in some detail and to also put them in the context of the intent of our broader policy, which is really to continue to invest in our alliance with Australia, to build the interoperability between our two forces, but also to contribute to the stability of the region and reassuring partners in the region.”

The Obama administration announced that it was sending several thousand Marines to a base on the northern tip of Australia, strategically located near the contentious South China Sea that Beijing has claimed as its “driveway” in Southeast Asia.

The lack of mention of the Air Sea Battle Concept highlights the secretive nature of the plan, which has been under development for several years. It is aimed at better coordinating Air Force and Navy forces in the Pacific. The Marines were added to the concept, and the Army also wants a role, possibly for missile defense and cyberwarfare.

Chinese military officials criticized U.S. arms sales to Taiwan during the talks. Ms. Flournoy said she defended the arms sales as enhancing efforts to bridge differences between Taiwan and the mainland.

Ms. Flournoy, who announced after the trip that she will be stepping down next year, said she thought China’s briefing on a defense white paper during the talks was a good example of transparency by the secretive Chinese military.

The annual white paper, however, is viewed by analysts as a vague statement of China’s defense goals and provides few details of Chinese strategic and military intentions.

Reflecting the sentiments of many Sinophile policymakers in the administration, Ms. Flournoy appeared to spend a great deal of time in her talks trying to play down the major U.S. military buildup in Asia to counter China’s military buildup and insisting to her counterparts that the United States does not view China as an enemy.

During a meeting with reporters in Beijing after the talks, she was asked about China’s new aircraft carrier, which underwent its second round of sea trials recently. She dismissed the development as “anticipated for a while.”

Ms. Flournoy also played down the statement made by Chinese President Hu Jintao during her visit that the Chinese navy should prepare for war.

“I would be very flattered if President Hu’s comments were directed at this visit, but I doubt that’s the case,” she said.

Asked whether the U.S. posture “pivot” toward Asia, announced last month, was discussed, Ms. Flournoy said: “The question did come up, and we assured Gen. Ma [Xiaotian] and his delegation that the U.S. does not seek to contain China - we do not view China as an adversary - that these posture changes were first and foremost about strengthening our alliance with Australia.”

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