- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2000

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen will depart Monday on his first visit to China since military ties were broken off after the errant U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia last year, defense officials said yesterday.

Mr. Cohen will resume the "high-level dialogue" on defense issues with Chinese President Jiang Zemin as well as his counterpart, Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian, and other People's Liberation Army (PLA) leaders, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The secretary's trip demonstrates that the two countries are seeking to work together in a positive fashion," said a senior Pentagon official in an interview.

"It gives the secretary an opportunity to meet the most senior leaders from the Central Military Commission and to have contact with the PLA, which is important in decision-making in the country," he said.

The talks will center on the security situation in Asia, including the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan, where tensions remain heightened over China's reaction to democratic presidential elections that brought a traditionally pro-inde-pendence leader into power.

The defense secretary last visited China in January 1998 but was unable to visit last year because of Beijing's harsh reaction to the embassy bombing.

China broke off military-to-military relations after U.S. warplanes bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade after military targeters misidentified the building based on faulty intelligence.

Chinese leaders believe the bombing was intentional. U.S.-China relations went into a deep freeze and have slowly improved only after several official U.S. government apologies were issued.

Mr. Cohen will spend several days in Beijing and then travel to Shanghai before heading south to Sydney, Australia. In Sydney, he will hold talks with Australian defense and military officials.

Defense consultative talks were held in January with Chinese officials, the senior officials said. The talks marked the resumption of military-to-military contacts.

Following the January meetings in Washington, the Chinese general in charge of the Nanjing military region where China is building up missile forces opposite Taiwan recently completed an unreported visit to the United States, the senior official said.

China's military leaders also are expected to press Mr. Cohen on U.S. plans to deploy a national missile defense. China opposes the U.S. system as a threat to its growing strategic nuclear arsenal.

A test of the national missile defense system is set for tomorrow and will be a benchmark for whether President Clinton gives the go-ahead for deployment.

China is expected to send a senior general to the United States later this year, but no plans exist yet for a reciprocal visit by Gen. Chi, the Chinese defense minister, to the United States.

Some defense officials believe China may conduct another test flight of its newest long-range missile, the DF-31, during the secretary's visit.

U.S. intelligence agencies reported earlier this month that a flight test of the missile is expected soon and China's leaders have been known to use missile tests in the past to send political signals.

The secretary's visit follows the release of the Pentagon's annual report to Congress on China's military power last week.

The report states that China is building up its military forces in an overall modernization program.

It says China's leaders are reconsidering their view that peace and development are a global trend and instead have become worried about the U.S. efforts to "contain" China.

Chinese leaders also believe the U.S.-led NATO military operations against Yugoslavia last year are a "dangerous precedent for eventual U.S. military operations against China in Taiwan Strait or South China Sea conflict scenarios."

The senior Pentagon official said that since 1997 the Pentagon has been working to assist Taiwan in bolstering its defense "software" its doctrine and strategy to better maintain a military balance across the Taiwan Strait.

"In a certain sense it's bringing the concepts of jointness and making them aware of the value of jointness and helping them understand that," the official said. "Jointness" is the Pentagon's term for combining ground, air and naval forces in combat.

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