- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006

HONOLULU — The U.S. Coast Guard is quietly expanding exchanges with Chinese maritime-security agencies in a move that reflects the boom in seaborne trade between the two countries.

Chinese law-enforcement officers ride Coast Guard cutters patrolling North Pacific fishing areas. Chinese and American officers scrutinize port security on each other’s coasts. Chinese take part in joint training drills.

Chinese, along with Canadians, Japanese, South Koreans, Russians and Americans, attend an annual North Pacific Coast Guard Forum in Alaska.

And the Coast Guard has posted a Chinese-speaking officer, Capt. Barney Moreland, to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to liaise with Chinese officials, including those dealing with port security.

Coast Guard officials think the cooperation is justified by growing trade links in spite of often uneasy political relations between the United States and China. Most of the $207 billion worth of Chinese exports to the United States in the first nine months of 2006 moved by ship.

“We put politics aside to focus on the mission,” said Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, who commands Coast Guard ships and sailors from Hawaii west to the shores of Asia.

The exchanges also are part of a broader U.S. effort to rebuild military exchanges with China, which lapsed after Chinese authorities crushed a pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989 and a Chinese fighter plane collided with a U.S. reconnaissance plane off Hainan Island in 2001.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates indicated to the Senate Armed Services Committee ahead of his confirmation that he would continue those exchanges. “I believe that expanded military exchanges with China can be valuable, but should be based on China’s willingness to reciprocate.”

The reasons for the exchanges are several. At the workaday level, the two sides exchange information on “best practices,” on how well things are done, said Adm. Brice-O’Hara.

Strategically, the Pacific Command seeks to reassure the Chinese, who are suspicious of foreign powers, that the United States is not planning to attack. Conversely, the United States seeks to deter the Chinese from miscalculating and planning a war with the United States.

Down at deck level, the Coast Guard Cutter Rush called at the Chinese port of Qingdao recently to pick up an official of the Fisheries Law Enforcement Commission, Tan Lizhou.

He came aboard to work with the crew as they checked on whether fishing boats in the North Pacific were operating in accord with international agreements intended to conserve dwindling stocks of fish there.

“We made him part of the crew,” said Capt. Dana Ware, then the skipper of the ship. He assigned Mr. Tan the rank of lieutenant commander, which made him relatively senior among the ship’s 20 officers.

Mr. Tan mustered to quarters, ate with the officers in the wardroom where he didn’t much care for American food, and had computer connections with his home base in China.

Mr. Tan’s main duty, however, was to communicate by radio with Chinese fishing vessels that Capt. Ware thought should be inspected, then to go with the boarding party to verify the vessel’s registration, equipment records and catch log.

“We let him do most of the talking,” Capt. Ware said, noting that Mr. Tan’s English got better as time passed so that he could explain more to his American hosts.

An e-mail to Mr. Tan asking whether his voyage on the Rush had been worthwhile and served the purposes of his government went unanswered.

Ashore, port security has taken high priority since the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. The possibility that a terrorist could hide a bomb in a shipment of Chinese exports to the U.S. causes anxiety — as does a shipment of imports into China from anywhere.

Thus, says Adm. Brice-O’Hara, “We want to see their port-security standards. And the Chinese come look at our ports so that we can share best practices.”

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