- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

A House resolution condemning Beijing for a clash between Chinese vessels and a U.S. Navy ship last weekend threatens to up the ante at the high-profile first meeting of President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao next month.

The White House has sought to downplay the international dust-up, but the resolution introduced Thursday by Rep. J. Randy Forbes likely will keep the incident at the fore.

“What it does is give the president more ammunition to say to President Hu that this is something the American people care about,” said Mr. Forbes, Virginia Republican. “This resolution will send that message very, very strongly.”

The topic was broached Thursday when Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met with Mr. Obama at the White House - part of a run-up to a meeting of the two presidents in early April at the Group of 20 summit in London.

Mr. Obama stressed the importance of raising the level and frequency of the U.S.-China military-to-military dialogue in order to avoid future incidents. National Security Adviser James L. Jones also discussed the incident with Mr. Yang at a meeting earlier in the day, the White House said.

The Forbes resolution condemns Beijing for escalating tensions by allowing five Chinese vessels to surround and harass the unarmed USNS Impeccable in the South China Sea.

The resolution also condemns China for rejecting U.S. protests to the incident and urges Mr. Obama “to raise this matter directly with [Mr. Hu] to seek his assurances that such actions will not be taken again.”

The incident occurred Sunday off China’s southern Hainan Island, the site of a major submarine base and other naval installations.

Defense officials told the Associated Press that the Impeccable, manned by a civilian crew, is designed and equipped for submarine-hunting work and was involved in a U.S. surveillance operation in the disputed waterway.

China claims the sea as its own. The U.S. says the ship was operating in international waters.

Mr. Forbes, co-chairman of the 34-member Congressional China Caucus that monitors the country, said the military encounter fit a pattern of Chinese provocation and was likely a deliberate test of the new Obama administration.

“The Chinese will push the United States as far as they can,” he said. “Now they are evaluating how we respond.”

Mr. Forbes said China routinely disregards U.S. protests, including over human rights, intellectual property rights and trade access.

But the nonbinding resolution by Congress would grab China’s attention, he said, as did one passed Wednesday that recognized “the plight of the Tibetan people” on the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile.

China lodged a complaint Thursday over the Tibet resolution, saying it disregarded “the real situation” in the Tibet region and “makes groundless accusations against China’s religious policies.”

Mr. Forbes said that if the House can take a stance on China’s Tibet policy, the chamber surely can address the country’s aggressive military interaction with the U.S.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Guam Democrat and co-chairman of the China Caucus.

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