- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2001

The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific will visit China this week for the first of a series of military exchanges started by the Clinton administration and adopted without a major review by the Bush administration.

Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the Pacific Command, will arrive in Beijing tomorrow for the first of about 30 high-level military exchanges and "events" between the U.S. and Chinese militaries set for this year, according to U.S. officials familiar with the secret exchange program.

"He is going to seek clarification of Chinese military activities and plans, while explaining the Pacific Command's activities and plans," said Army Lt. Col. Christy Samuels, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Command in Hawaii.

The visit, which ends Saturday, will include stops in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai. It is aimed at "exchanging views on matters of mutual interest and working toward greater mutual understanding," Col. Samuels said.

The four-star admiral will discuss the contentious issue of "U.S. policies on the peaceful resolution of issues involving the future of Taiwan," Col. Samuels said.

"Lastly he will emphasize that we seek to include China, not exclude China, from participation in multilateral activities common to the interests of all nations," she said.

It will be the first exchange since the new administration took office under President Bush's announced policy of treating China more as a "strategic competitor" instead of a partner, a goal pursued by the Clinton administration.

Beijing, for its part, verbally attacked the United States in an official white paper last October for what it said is worldwide "gunboat diplomacy." The paper identified the United States as China's main foe.

Under a law passed last year, the Pentagon is required to disclose the list of exchange activities to Congress by March 31. Officials said the approval of the program last week by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appears to circumvent that law since Congress has not been briefed on the exchanges.

Other events scheduled for the coming months include delegations of military officers from China many of whom are intelligence officers who will visit sensitive U.S. military installations, and ship and aircraft visits, said officials familiar with a secret list of activities in the program.

"This is a program that is based on the idea of China becoming a strategic partner, not a strategic competitor," as Mr. Bush described it during the presidential campaign, said one official who is concerned about the program.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Terry Southerland, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the upcoming U.S.-Chinese exchanges because the list is classified.

In 1999, however, the Pentagon released the list of all planned military exchanges with China to The Washington Times.

However, after The Times reported on the activities, the list was kept from both the public and Congress for two years, U.S. officials said.

Unlike the Chinese military visits to sensitive facilities and bases here, U.S. military officials who go to China have been restricted from seeing similar facilities because of the Chinese military's secretive nature, said the officials.

One 1998 visit to China was described as a Chinese deception. U.S. military officials were shown an aging air defense base that the officials said was meant to fool the United States about China's military capabilities.

Administration officials said privately that State Department and Pentagon officials appointed during the Clinton administration quietly pushed through the 2001 China military-exchange program without a thorough review.

Mr. Rumsfeld approved the entire 2001 program last week during a meeting with Adm. Blair. A spokesman for the secretary had no immediate comment.

However, Mary Ellen Countryman, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said the 2001 exchanges were not the work of "Clinton holdovers."

"This was a decision taken by the secretary of defense after he reviewed the contacts and decided to recommend to the National Security Council that they be continued, so they have been," she said.

An administration official said, however, the list of exchanges was completed in December by a team led by Walter Slocombe, the undersecretary of defense for policy in the last administration, and political appointees working for him.

Those who pushed to continue the exchanges include Adm. Blair, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to China, retired Adm. Joseph Prueher, Fred Smith, deputy assistant defense secretary for East Asia under the Clinton administration, and Daryl Johnson, a State Department official in place during the last administration.

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