Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Bush administration has adopted a bold new strategy for countering the emergence of a threatening China with policies that were drawn up several years ago and started being implemented in the past several months.

The “hedge” strategy is a response to the September 11, 2001, attacks and the crisis over the April 1, 2001, midair collision between an EP-3 surveillance aircraft and a Chinese interceptor jet, according to U.S. national security officials involved with the policy.

The 23-member EP-3 crew was forced to make an emergency landing at a Chinese military base on Hainan Island and were imprisoned there for 11 days.

Months after the incident, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met with President Bush in Crawford, Texas, along with then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to map out plans for a new strategy to deal with China, the officials said.

The meeting concluded with an agreement that U.S. efforts to develop better military-to-military relations with China were not effective in influencing China’s powerful communist-dominated military. The Chinese military remains a “party army,” whose first loyalty is to keeping the Communist Party in power. All agreed a new U.S. posture was needed to dissuade China from becoming a more threatening power.

The hedge strategy was developed as part of a broader shift in policy toward Asia. It is based on Mr. Rumsfeld’s belief that future threats are hard to predict, and therefore the United States must prepare for unexpected dangers.

“We learned after 9/11 that we’re totally unable to predict things,” said a senior defense official involved in the new strategy.

“It was a sobering experience, 9/11 was, because we have a whole bunch of war plans and con plans in the can that worked for the U.S. government in the past,” said one Rumsfeld aide involved in China policy. “But we’ve learned that you can’t plan for everything so you have to have a very adaptive posture and you have to have very adaptive [weapons] platforms and an adaptive strategy.”

Other contributors to the new strategy include Andrew Marshall, head of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, and Michael Pillsbury, a key China adviser.

The first steps in the new strategy were approved in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, even though China was not mentioned specifically in that defense strategy paper. The latest review, however, makes explicit references to China emerging as a future threat.

Before the new hedge strategy was adopted, China policy was a major topic of debate within government. Pro-business officials, primarily within the commerce and state departments, sought to play down the threatening aspects of China’s development. National security officials at the Pentagon mainly argued that unless pressure is applied and the United States takes steps to counter the Chinese, the threat will grow.

The debate was largely ended on Mr. Rumsfeld’s terms, officials said, including the use of tight secrecy and strategic misdirection to avoid provoking Beijing into an arms race.

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