- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met yesterday with China’s defense minister for the first high-level military exchange since the U.S.-China crisis involving a midair collision in April 2001.

The defense secretary met for an hour with Chinese Gen. Cao Gangchuan, who was appointed defense minister as part of a leadership change in March.

Gen. Cao is scheduled to meet with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice today and may meet President Bush. He also will meet with State Department officials.

Pentagon spokesmen declined to discuss specifics of Mr. Rumsfeld’s meeting.

Gen. Cao was greeted outside the Pentagon by Mr. Rumsfeld and a military honor cordon. The general’s delegation included more than a dozen Chinese military officers, including Lt. Gen. Xiong Guangkai, the Chinese military’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence.

Chinese leaders in past talks vigorously opposed U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Mr. Bush has offered to sell Taiwan an array of advanced arms, including guided-missile destroyers, submarines, patrol aircraft and military electronics. Beijing views the island as a breakaway province.

The Pentagon issued a statement after the meeting saying the two officials “discussed a wide range of global and regional security issues, including the state of bilateral military relations between the U.S. and China.”

The statement said the talks were “productive and constructive” and “both sides have agreed to arrange further visits of the military leaders in 2004.”

Mr. Rumsfeld curtailed U.S.-China military exchanges after the Chinese military imprisoned 24 U.S. service members who were aboard a damaged surveillance aircraft that made an emergency landing at a Chinese military base on Hainan island.

The EP-3E surveillance plane was hit by a Chinese F-8 jet. The propeller aircraft had been monitoring China’s coast from international airspace.

The imprisonment was the first international crisis for the Bush administration, which negotiated the release of the crew after 11 days.

Gen. Cao is a key Chinese military leader who was behind the purchase of most of China’s advanced weapons systems from Russia, according to defense officials. He is vice chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Central Military Commission, the party organ that controls the military.

Mr. Rumsfeld said during an interview Thursday with The Washington Times that he could not gauge whether the visit by Gen. Cao signals that U.S.-China military ties are back on track. “I’m not in a position to compare. That’s not a useful thing for me to try to do.”

Asked if the military exchanges with China are useful, Mr. Rumsfeld said: “I think certainly the ones we’re having are appropriate and logical and beneficial from our standpoint.”

Critics of past military exchanges with the country have said the Chinese have been shown advanced U.S. military facilities, which could be useful to Beijing’s military modernization. By contrast, visits to China by U.S. military officials have been severely restricted and designed to play down China’s military buildup.

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