- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

Chinese President Hu Jintao must be a very persuasive speaker. How else can one explain Washington’s conciliatory actions toward Beijing in the wake of Mr. Hu’s recent visit to the U.S.? Since that visit, the Bush administration has made several pro-China decisions in the areas of military cooperation, space exploration and economic policy that seem designed to bring the two competing world powers closer together.

This new “pro-engagement” approach differs greatly from previous statements made by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over the past year concerning Beijing’s global intentions. It also raises serious questions about the overall consistency and direction of the administration’s China policy.

In May, the head of U.S. Pacific forces, Adm. William Fallon, met with high-level Chinese officials and called for improved military ties as a way to promote “greater transparency.” During his four-city tour of China, the admiral endorsed joint military exercises between the two countries, saying, “It is high time we re-engage with the Chinese military. There are a lot of things we ought to be doing together.” To that end, the possibility of Chinese participation in U.S.-led military exercises with Pacific allies Australia, Japan and Singapore was raised and Chinese personnel were invited to observe U.S. military exercises next month near Guam.

The offer of greater military cooperation comes at a time when the Pentagon prepares to confront an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable China. In its just-released China Military Power Report, the Pentagon called on Beijing to explain the purpose of its accelerated military buildup and noted that the country’s rapid modernization had altered the military balance in the Asia-Pacific region. Only months before, the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review also described China as a potential military threat. According to a Defense Department report to Congress, China’s spending on defense in 2005 reached an estimated $90 billion, making the country one of the largest defense spenders in the world. Over the past decade, in fact, China’s military budget has grown by double digits.

The Bush administration said recently that it was more concerned with China’s military spending than the possibility of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin embarking on his own arms buildup. And with good reason: Several reports have noted the growing threat posed by China’s ballistic and cruise missile forces, rapidly modernizing submarine fleet and cyber-warfare technologies.

Just recently, Chinese researchers boasted that the country has developed technology that can detect and destroy the latest U.S. jet fighter, the F-22 (a radar-evading stealth fighter that entered service last year).

John Tkacik, an Asia specialist with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, views Adm. Fallon’s diplomatic efforts as naive; “Chinese leaders have no intention of diluting the opacity of their military buildup, and the admiral’s inability to get any this time, after several visits by several Pacific commanders over the past five years, strikes me as the triumph of hope over experience.”

In addition to joint military cooperation, the announcement last month by the Bush administration that the head of NASA, Michael Griffin, would travel to China to work on plans for a joint U.S.-China space mission, conflicts with past policy. The development of a space program is an important step for a developing country such as China. But many observers worry that China could use its newfound technological expertise to militarize space. Beijing has spent billions of dollars to develop a sophisticated satellite constellation designed specifically to collect and transmit data on the movements of U.S. military forces around the world.

Also, work on space and ground-based anti-satellite systems that can identify, track and destroy U.S. satellites is ongoing. As one Chinese general said, “The mastery of outer space will be requisite for military victory — a new frontier for combat.” And yet the Bush administration is now prepared to assist China’s space program. Why?

Finally, Washington has chosen to delay punitive economic sanctions against China over the undervalued yuan and the country’s unfair trade practices. The Bush administration has repeatedly ignored pleas from members of Congress and the U.S. business sector to formally accuse Beijing of being a “currency manipulator.” Then-Treasury Secretary John Snow said in early May that China’s currency position is a “matter of extreme urgency” and that the administration is “dissatisfied” with the slow and disappointing pace of reform of the Chinese exchange rate.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to address the disparity; the most notable being a bill proposed by Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham that would levy a 27.5 percent tariff on all Chinese imports.

Almost everything Beijing has done over the past two decades, from Westernizing its economy to modernizing and streamlining its military to updating its infrastructure, has been undertaken to challenge America’s world authority. Open dialogue, while a precursor to normal relations, should be pursued carefully. Any discussions with Beijing should promote core Western values and fair market competition while also preserving America’s national security interests.

Beijing is using its growing influence and power for regime security. Washington must recognize this and fashion an appropriate response before moving forward.

Fred Stakelbeck Jr. is a foreign affairs analyst based in Philadelphia.

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