- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

China is stepping up military training in Latin America because of a law that limits U.S. military support to nations in the region, the general in charge of the U.S. Southern Command told Congress yesterday.

Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, who oversees U.S. military activities in the region, said a lack of engagement on the part of the United States has benefited China.

“If we are not there and we can’t provide this opportunity, someone else will,” Gen. Craddock told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Other nations are moving in. The People’s Republic of China has made many offers, and now we are seeing those who formerly would come to the United States going to China.”

The growing Chinese role comes amid numerous high-level visits by its leaders and other activities aimed at building military and economic ties to leftist governments and other states in a strategic region long-considered within the U.S. sphere of influence.

The military inroads followed passage of the 2002 American Servicemembers Protection Act that blocks U.S. military financing and training to nations that have not agreed to bar the extradition of U.S. citizens to the International Criminal Court, Gen. Craddock said. The act ended military aid to 11 nations in the region, he said.

“Some of these countries are critical — Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia,” Gen. Craddock said, noting that in several nations, “we are losing the opportunity to bring their officers, their senior noncommissioned officers, to the United Sates into our schools.”

The lack of training has prevented sharing U.S. military “attributes and characteristics” with foreign militaries, including concepts of military subordination to civilian leaders, and principles of democracy, he said.

Gen. Craddock said Latin American military leaders have told him that they need more U.S. involvement. The absence of involvement “opens the door for competing nations … who may not share our democratic principles,” Gen. Craddock said.

Committee Chairman Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and the ranking Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, expressed concern. Committee member Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, suggested that the funding and training ban be lifted as part of a spending bill under consideration.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, said China is seeking deals with the leftist government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and with Argentina on civilian-use nuclear goods.

Gen. Craddock said the Chavez government is a “very destabilizing influence” in the region.

He said that prior to the ban, the United States trained 771 military members from countries now barred from training.

Chinese military inroads are accompanying greater economic involvement. Last year, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the region and economic agreements worth hundreds of millions of dollars for mineral and energy resources followed.

Less is known about arms sales, however, China recently offered to sell new shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to the leftist government in Bolivia. The Chinese have supplied military equipment to Cuba and are cooperating with Brazil on a joint satellite project thought to have military applications.

China has also offered to sell its new FC-1 jet fighter to Venezuela, after last year’s sale of three JYL-1 mobile air-defense radar units.

Larry Wortzel, a former Pentagon intelligence official, said China recently dispatched a delegation of Second Artillery officers to Cuba. The artillery unit is China’s strategic and tactical missile force, and the visit raises questions about whether Cuba is acquiring missiles.

An eight-member military delegation to Cuba earlier this month was led by Lt. Gen. Peng Xiaofeng, political commissar of the Second Artillery forces.

“We know almost nothing” about Chinese military and intelligence activities in the region, a Pentagon official said.

Mexico is also being courted. Last year, three of the nine members of the ruling Communist Party of China Politburo Standing Committee, the collective dictatorship that rules China, visited Mexico.

Additionally, Chinese economic activities are increasing in Canada, the Pentagon official said, noting that the activities in the hemisphere are part of a “counter-encirclement” strategy by Beijing, aimed at neutralizing what China views as a U.S. policy of building up bases and alliances in nations around China.

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