- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

HONOLULU Lack of Chinese transparency and consistency was a key move in the inconclusive outcome of a senior Pentagon official's recent Beijing visit seeking a way for American and Chinese military forces to resume professional contacts, according to U.S. officials.
Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, succeeded only in identifying points of contention, the officials said. Mr. Rodman met with Defense Minister Chi Haotian; the chief of general staff of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), Xiong Guangkai; and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Li Zhaoxing.
"Both sides talked at each other, and it was all very polite," said a U.S. official, "but it was not conclusive." In Washington, Mr. Rodman and other top officials are discussing Mr. Rodman's findings before recommending the next step to President Bush.
At issue are military-to-military contacts in which Chinese officers visit American bases, Chinese ships make port calls in the United States and Chinese defense officials attend U.S. conferences on security matters. In return, American officers, ships and officials visit China.
Those exchanges all but came to a halt in April 2000 after a Chinese jet collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance aircraft. The Chinese pilot was killed, and the American crew made an emergency landing on China's Hainan island.
Chinese officials announced at the end of Mr. Rodman's two-day visit on June 27 that the meetings had fostered a "frank and constructive atmosphere" that could help move the two nations toward a closer military relationship.
But U.S. officials said Mr. Rodman ran into three stumbling blocks: reciprocity, transparency and consistency.
In the first, American officials have long asserted that the United States is far more open with the Chinese than the Chinese have been with Americans. Chinese officers are shown U.S. forces in realistic training and are given ship and base tours but are not shown anything secret, including U.S. logistics. The Chinese, however, have shown the Americans much less.
That leads to the second problem, a lack of Chinese transparency. Part of Chinese reticence appears due to an intrinsic tendency to secrecy. In addition, some Americans speculate, the Chinese may be embarrassed because their forces are not as well trained and armed as the Americans. "They just don't want us to see how bad they are," said one officer.
Third, the United States wants a guarantee that military exchanges will not be cut off whenever there is a contentious issue between Washington and Beijing. The Chinese have been inconsistent, for instance, in permitting U.S. warships to call at Hong Kong.
Chinese officials say the PLA is ready to resume the contacts because there is much to learn from the Americans, and they contend that the underlying problem is that the Bush administration has not decided its policy on China.
Some U.S. officials agree on the latter point, saying a vigorous debate runs through the upper echelons of the Bush administration, with hard-line conservatives arguing against the exchanges.
Mr. Rodman himself seems to advocate a measured approach. Before he came to office, he wrote that an intelligent American strategy would offer China "a constructive course as a positive alternative to a collision course."


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