- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

Chinese military forces are participating as observers in a U.S. mine-sweeping exercise near Singapore in their first joint military activity since Chinas detention of 24 American service members in April.
Chinese military observers were invited to what the U.S. Pacific Command is calling the Western Pacific Mine Countermeasures Exercise, which began Monday in waters near Singapore.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis said the Chinese participation was approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as part of the new policy of conducting military exchanges and activities with the Chinese on a case-by-case basis.
"It has gone through the review process and it was approved," Cmdr. Davis said. "The secretary of defenses policy was clear that any contacts would be approved on a case-by-case basis, and that was done."
It is the first joint U.S.-Chinese military activity since the April 1 collision between a U.S. EP-3E surveillance aircraft and a Chinese F-8 interceptor. The collision led to the detention of the 24 U.S. service members who landed their damaged plane on Hainan island in the South China Sea after the aerial collision.
Mr. Rumsfeld suspended all contacts with Chinas Peoples Liberation Army as a result of the detention and Chinas refusal to return the aircraft.
An American military team is on Hainan island to arrange for the removal of the damaged aircraft aboard a foreign transport jet.
The mine-sweeping exercises, sponsored by the Singapore government, are the first practiced jointly by U.S. and Singapore navies, with 14 other nations participating.
"The exercise will test mine detection, identification and disposal procedures required for maintaining open international waterways," a Pacific Command press statement said.
Some Pentagon officials are concerned that the exercises will provide Chinas military with valuable intelligence on how the United States clears the sea of mines.
That information would be useful in the event of a conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan, where defeating mine defenses would be a key objective of Chinese military forces.
"Taiwans defense depends on laying mines," said one official. "What the Chinese could learn from these exercises is how better to 'liberate Taiwan."
Chinas military refused an invitation to take part in the U.S.-led Cobra Gold military exercises in Thailand earlier this month.
A Pacific Command spokesman had no immediate comment on whether Taiwans navy was invited to take part in the mine-sweeping exercises.
However, Taiwans military has been deliberately excluded in the past from multilateral exercises based on a U.S. policy aimed at avoiding any activities that would upset Pentagon efforts to develop ties with the Chinese military.
China has participated in joint search-and-rescue operations with the United States near Hong Kong. The first time the Chinese took part was primarily to conduct intelligence-gathering work. A second search-and-rescue exercise with the Chinese involved more interaction on the mechanics of conducting searches at sea, said a senior military official.
The Pacific Command stated that the exercises bolster "enhanced regional engagement."
In contrast, the U.S. military has never been invited to take part in any Chinese military exercises, although observers have attended staged military demonstrations.
A senior military official has said that inviting Chinese military observers to regional exercises is part of a strategy aimed at involving the Chinese in activities with its neighbors and moderating their behavior.

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