The commander of the U.S. Strategic Command said in an interview that he supports the idea of holding strategic talks with China on nuclear, missile-defense, space and cyberwarfare issues.
“I’m a firm believer in dialogue,” said Air ForceGen. Kevin P. Chilton, who said he learned the value of military exchanges after working on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Gen. Chilton, who steps down Friday as Stratcom commander, said he was ordered at the time to quickly develop ties with Pakistan’s military, only to find that relations had been frozen for years over U.S. nuclear concerns. He was tasked with getting Pakistani military support for U.S. military basing and overflights for the October 2001 operation against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
“I learned a very important lesson there and something that marked me for life: It’s best to have open dialogue,” he said. “It helps with transparency; if nothing else, you know who to call in crisis, or impending crisis or times of uncertainty. Many, many times it can lead to an opportunity to diffuse a crisis or inform your leadership on how things might progress.”
Efforts to develop a dialogue with China, however, have been hampered by Chinese opposition to engaging the U.S. military.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates earlier this month visited China and asked Beijing to join “strategic talks” on the four areas. China’s defense minister was lukewarm to the idea, promising only to “study” the talks proposal.
However, the four-star general said China’s military sent a representative to a Strategic Command conference in 2009 but not last year.
He quoted Chinese Col. Yao Yunzhu, who took part in a 2009 meeting on deterrence, as telling the conference: “We [the Chinese military] don’t like being transparent, quite frankly, at this point. We don’t see it to our advantage.”
The case is the latest example of what security specialists say is a Chinese intelligence assault on the United States to gain secrets and technology for Beijing’s large-scale military buildup.
Earlier Chinese spying involved obtaining secrets on every deployed weapon in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during the 1990s, a case that was never formally resolved by the FBI — that of Los Angeles defense contractor Chi Mak, which compromised Navy technology.