- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2004

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spent two days in China last week in an effort to build ties with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It has been more than three years since a general holding America’s top-ranking military position has visited the People’s Republic.

According to a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Beijing, the purpose of the general’s visit was “to maintain and improve military-to-military relations by promoting dialogue and transparency.” In theory, this might sound acceptable. In practice, however, Beijing has never treated transparency as a two-way street. The Chinese reticence should remind Washington to be leery about sharing too much military information with the Communist giant.

State Department bureaucrats and foreign-policy internationalists for years have advocated engagement with China as the only way to lure the regime into the world of law-abiding nations. Business ties may have succeeded in bringing the nations closer together economically, which makes serious confrontation more costly and thus less likely. However, there is no compelling justification for letting the PLA know too much about our military weaponry, communications systems and command-and-control operations — especially given that Beijing considers itself to be the next geopolitical check to U.S. dominance in the world. Regarding the threat of rogue states or organizations attacking America, China is one of the largest exporters of ballistic missile technology. A friend of our enemies cannot be considered a reliable friend.

China’s military stance reflects the regime’s vision of itself as an American competitor more than a friend. Last year, for example, a Pentagon report revealed that China was reorganizing its missile batteries to target the 25,000 U.S. troops in Okinawa, Japan. In recent years, China’s defense budget has been growing at an annual rate of at least 17 percent. (Some experts think the PLA’s military-spending increases are actually higher.) Such sustained military investment — especially for such a poor country — will pose a major defensive challenge to the United States in the future. The PLA is rapidly developing an expertise in cyber-warfare techniques, lasers and other hi-tech weaponry, which are areas in which America’s edge is smaller and the time lag for other nations to catch up is shorter. Beijing military budgets show that China is determined to catch-up fast.

The history of U.S. military exchanges with China is troubling. As one Defense official painted past efforts, “We gave them blueprints to our nuclear submarines, and they showed us their mess halls.” Early in the Bush administration, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld opposed military exchanges with the Chinese, an internal debate he lost. The secretary’s hesitance was based on a defensive reality. The more China knows about U.S. armed forces, the better they can develop their military to counter ours. The Pentagon exists to prevent such a dangerous threat to the nation’s security, not abet it.

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