- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2000

The top Chinese general in charge of enforcing communist ideology will visit the United States as a guest of the Pentagon in what some defense officials say is a covert intelligence mission to learn possible weaknesses in military morale.

The Pentagon's official policy-makers are also portraying the delegation of People's Liberation Army (PLA) "commissars" led by Gen. Yu Yongbo as equivalent to America's military's chaplains.

The comparison has angered some officials, who object to giving religious overtones to officially atheist Chinese military ideologues.

"The DoD explanation for this is that there is a counterpart for each Chinese general who visits," said one defense official critical of the proposal who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "And in their effort to find a counterpart to Gen. Yu, one they have chosen is the chaplain corps of the Army, Navy and Air Force."

Gen. Yu and six other PLA commissars are expected to meet several chaplains during the visit, which begins tomorrow and ends Nov. 4, the officials said.

In a statement, the Pentagon announced yesterday that Gen. Yu would visit the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.; Bolling Air Force Base in Washington; Fort Jackson, S.C.; Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.; and the U.S. Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii.

A Pentagon spokesman said the official counterpart for Gen. Yu is Bernard Rostker, the undersecretary of defense for readiness.

A key host will be Rostker aide Victor Vasquez, the official in charge of personnel support, families and education. "Certainly chaplains will brief Gen. Yu in their areas of expertise," he said.

Gen. Yu is head of the General Political Department in charge of "political education, welfare and morale" of the PLA.

"Yu is responsible for PLA officer development, education and management," according to the statement, noting that he is "the PLA's top political commissar."

"He will be the highest-ranking PLA official visiting the United States this year," the statement said.

The visit is part of the Pentagon's policy of engaging the Chinese military. The policy has come under fire from critics in Congress who say the program is helping improve Chinese war-fighting skills.

A law passed last year put limits on the exchanges, but the Pentagon has ignored the legislation, according to congressional aides.

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen on Thursday, asking him to explain the exchanges and whether they are legal.

"If necessary, I will use the full authority of my chairmanship, including subpoena authority" to obtain documents on the exchanges by Oct. 30, Mr. Burton stated.

Defense officials critical of the visit said U.S. intelligence agencies believe China's ulterior motive is to learn how to attack the morale of U.S. forces.

"They believe one of America's biggest weak points is morale that can be crushed in a surprise, massive attack," one official said. "That's what their goal is for the visit. It's an intelligence collection mission."

For example, China's strategy for a conflict with Taiwan calls for rapid missile and aerial attacks on the island aimed at forcing a quick surrender by Taipei before U.S. military forces can be mustered for a defense.

The visit comes as China announced earlier this month that the situation in the Taiwan Strait is "grim," and that the main cause of the cross-strait problems is meddling by the United States.

China's military also has been engaged in menacing war games over the past several weeks that have raised new fears of a possible conflict with Taiwan, which would likely involve the United States.

The Pentagon statement said the generals, during their visit, will seek "to better understand how the average American service member lives."

It will include visits to "ordinary military bases to see what support structure exists for health, welfare, morale, legal, entertainment and religious services," the statement said.

The Pentagon statement said the visit seeks to "build mutual confidence and trust" between U.S. and Chinese forces. Ties were broken last year over NATO's bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

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