- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

HONOLULU — A delegation of 10 Chinese army, navy and air force officers watched three American aircraft carriers and armed forces go through strenuous training paces in the seas around the U.S. island territory of Guam in the Central Pacific this week.

At the same time in Beijing, the retired chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, met with Gen. Liang Guanglie, chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). They discussed counterterrorism, nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and regional security, the official PLA Daily newspaper reported.

These were the latest military exchanges to which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and PLA leaders agreed during a China visit last fall. A crucial U.S. objective in exposing Chinese to U.S. military operations is to avert a Chinese miscalculation about U.S. capabilities.

These exchanges, in turn, are part of the most delicate and difficult balancing act for the United States in Asia, which is to keep the peace between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the island of Taiwan. Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan while the United States is committed to helping Taiwan defend itself.

“We are trying our best to have both sides understand the true role we are playing,” said Adm. William Fallon, who commands U.S. forces in the Pacific and Asia from his headquarters above Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. He is responsible for executing what he calls a policy of “evenhandedness” between Beijing and Taiwan.

“We want to do whatever we can to prevent the PRC from attacking [Taiwan] militarily,” he said in an interview. “On the other hand, we are trying to encourage the people of Taiwan to figure out some way in which they can reach a long-term accommodation with the PRC.”

That balance has been sought since 1979, when President Carter switched U.S. diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. A displeased Congress responded by passing the Taiwan Relations Act to insist that whatever administration was in office in Washington would take Beijing’s threats to Taiwan seriously.

Adm. Fallon said Washington has moved toward an uneasy balance. “From my perspective,” he said, “we are better off today than we were a year ago.”

He said that when he visited China last month for the second time, he found the tension levels had subsided over the past year.

“They have not ratcheted up their declarations. That’s helpful because, in the absence of that tension, there are more opportunities to work things out.”

About Taiwan, he cautioned: “They should not have unrealistic expectations that, no matter what they do, we are going to come to their defense should they take steps that might provoke [China]” — meaning seeking formal independence.

Adm. Fallon also criticized Taiwan for not spending enough on defense or improving its fortifications.

“To their credit,” he said, “they appear now to recognize this. The military people get it and have taken steps, in my view, to start addressing some of these issues.”

The admiral did not mention Chen Shui-bian, president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), who has advocated the island’s independence.

On another front, Adm. Fallon has been the target of criticism in Washington, where some conservatives have complained that his plans for exchanges with China give away too much.

Adm. Fallon responded: “I will do the things that I believe are correct. I certainly understand the policies of the administration. I certainly understand the guidance of my boss, the secretary [of defense.]”

In reply to an e-mailed query, a Pentagon spokesman, Eric Ruff, pointed to Mr. Rumsfeld’s agreement with Chinese leaders and said: “Admiral Fallon is following up on these.”

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