- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2001

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will personally scrutinize proposed military-to-military contacts with China under a new policy approved this week, officials said yesterday.
Mr. Rumsfeld, who has complained privately of the access Chinese military officers receive at U.S. installations and aboard ships, will now have his personal staff review each proposed contact on a case-by-case basis.
The new top-level scrutiny makes it more likely that the Pentagon will turn down some contacts that give Chinas Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) too much access to U.S. military know-how, according to congressional defense aides.
The change is the Bush administrations latest shift away from Clinton-era defense policies. It comes amid continued bitterness between Washington and Beijing over Chinas detention of 24 EP-3E reconnaissance crew members who were forced to land April 1 on Hainan island after a Chinese fighter collided with the U.S. planes propeller.
Mr. Rumsfelds new China policy did not get off to a smooth start. A Pentagon spokesman said an aide misinterpreted the defense secretarys directives and signed a directive that suspended all military-to-military contacts with China.
The spokesman said this was not Mr. Rumsfelds intent. The inaccurate memo was signed by Christopher Williams, special assistant to the secretary of defense, and sent to military commanders on Monday.
The corrected policy on Chinese military contacts comes during the same week President Bush announced a major departure from the Clinton administration on missile defense.
Mr. Bush said Tuesday he was prepared to abandon the 3-decades-old Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to enable the United States to build a robust missile defense system that relies on land-, sea- and space-based missile killers such as lasers and interceptors. Former President Bill Clinton took a more cautious approach and never proposed ditching the ABM Treaty.
The Clinton administration also greatly increased ties between the PLA and American military units, beginning in 1993. The Pentagon said that the military exchanges were routine. However, China critics said the PLA, an arm of the Chinese Communist Party, was getting briefings on U.S. war doctrine and tactics that could help them in a future conflict with the United States.
"This was the centerpiece of the Clinton Pentagon," said William Triplett, an author on Asia and member of Washingtons "blue team," an ad hoc group of policy specialists who want Washington to take a tougher approach toward Beijing.
He said the new review process will ensure contacts "are not a one-way pipeline for U.S. military secrets and technology. Getting a handle on military-to-military relations between us and China has been a top priority for the blue team for years."
Mr. Triplett added, "It was a one-way street. We werent getting anything back and we were resurrecting the PLA that keeps the rotten dirty system in power."
After the PLA killed demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989, the military contacts in the United States "restored their prestige and as soon as we did it all the allies began having military-to-military contacts with them too," he said.
The Pentagon announced Mr. Rumsfelds review while China continues to keep the $80 million EP-3E plane. Chinese technicians have gutted the planes sophisticated suite of electronic listening devices and computers, and have most likely learned U.S. techniques for intercepting radio and telephone communications.
The Bush administration continues to press Beijing to return the plan. Yesterday, a team of U.S. technicians arrived on Hainan island to figure out how to bring the four-engine plane home.
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher said the sooner the plane is returned to the United States the sooner relations between the two countries can return to normal.
"The airplane is sort of a corrosive element right now in our relationship," he said to the Associated Press in Beijing.
"Its a reminder of a hard spot, and we need to clean that up and get on with things," he said.
He expressed hope that the U.S. technicians will have full access to the EP-3E, paving the way for the planes return to the United States. "I hope theyll get a look at it, make an assessment," he said, before boarding a flight back to the United States. "Thats what we have to do first and then get on to get that out."
The Navy plane is not flyable and will likely leave China on a barge.


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