- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002


In signs of improving U.S.-Chinese military relations, Beijing has agreed to let a U.S. Navy ship visit a mainland port this month, and the United States will host a group of Chinese generals next month.

Pentagon officials also said yesterday that the admiral who commands all U.S. forces in the Pacific will visit China in December.

Those three events will be the first of their kind since U.S.-Chinese military relations were ruptured by political fallout from the collision of a U.S. Navy surveillance plane with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea in April 2001.

In addition, the Pentagon announced that senior-level defense talks not held since November-December 2000 will resume Dec. 9 in Washington. The decision to proceed with those talks was made during President Bush's meeting in Texas last month with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, but no date had been set.

The Pentagon delegation to the Washington talks will be led by Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy. U.S. officials said the Chinese delegation will be led by Mr. Feith's counterpart, Gen. Xiong Guang Kai.

Although Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld never officially severed military-to-military contacts with China after the surveillance plane incident, he ordered a case-by-case review of contacts. The practical effect was that only low-level activities such as talks on military maritime safety have been held since 2001.

Mr. Rumsfeld was livid at China's accusation that the Navy's EP-3 surveillance plane violated Chinese sovereignty by landing at a Chinese airfield after the aerial collision. He also was angered that China detained the crew for 11 days and refused to allow the United States to repair and fly the plane off the airfield.

In recent months, however, the two countries have taken steps to repair military-to-military relations.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, said China and the United States have enough mutual interests, including concern over North Korea's nuclear-weapons program and the war on terrorism, to justify closer relations.

"Progress on the overall U.S.-China bilateral relationship supports having strategic and policy dialogue between our two militaries," Cmdr. Davis said in announcing the Navy ship visit and the Chinese generals' U.S. tour.

Some Pentagon officials feared that announcing both the ship visit and the Chinese generals' visit at the same time would give the impression that the Pentagon was rushing to normalize relations.

"We are taking a measured, pragmatic approach to conducting military contacts with China," Cmdr. Davis said.

He said Mr. Rumsfeld's policy of reviewing proposed exchanges on a case-by-case basis is still in effect.

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