- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2011

China’s top military leader and a group of officers are set to visit sensitive U.S. military bases this week, in exchanges that defense and congressional officials say run counter to a 2000 law designed to limit such exchanges from bolstering Beijing’s arms buildup.

Chinese Gen. Chen Bingde, the military chief of staff, arrived in Washington on Monday for the first high-level military exchange since Beijing cut off military ties early last year to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

One source of concern, according to defense officials, is Gen. Chen’s planned visit to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where the military conducts regular combat exercises, including one with cyberwarfare elements known as “Red Flag.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on investigations, said visits like those by Gen. Chen violate the limits set by Congress in a 2000 defense authorization law when they involve advanced U.S. weapons or military activities.

“We should not open to Chinese generals and admirals major military bases like the Norfolk Naval Station, the Army National Training Center, and Nellis Air Force Base, where our famous Red Flag air and cyberwarfare exercises are held,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.

“The People’s Republic is not an allied, or even a friendly country, and should not be given this kind of privileged access.”

The 24-member delegation includes eight admirals and generals, and four senior colonels.

Joint Staff spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said in a statement that the visit was reviewed for security and policy issues by all U.S. government agencies and departments involved in the visit. “The delegation is not stopping at any location that has not been appropriately cleared for this visit,” he said.

In another sign of thawing military ties, the visit coincides with a joint performance Tuesday night by the U.S. Army Band and People’s Liberation Army military band at Fort Myer in Virginia.

Another Joint Staff spokesman said Gen. Chen and several other high-ranking Chinese military officials were received at an arrival ceremony at Fort Myer earlier Tuesday. Gen. Chen is set to meet Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Wednesday at the Pentagon, and will then give a speech at the National Defense University, said Cmdr. Patrick McNally, the spokesman.

On Thursday, the Chinese military visitors will go to Norfolk and board a Navy destroyer and see a Navy air wing before traveling to Fort Stewart, Ga., to view soldiers and forces of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.

The delegation travels Friday to the Air Force war-fighting center at Nellis in the Nevada desert, where they will see aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicle displays. The last stop on Saturday will be the National Training Center at Fort Irwin in California.

Mr. Rohrabacher said he is concerned the Chinese will gain valuable war-fighting knowledge from the visit that could be used against U.S. forces in any future conflict. “These visits will not reduce tensions arising from Chinese expansion,” he said. “The Beijing dictatorship will only see such gestures as signs of an appeasement policy by the Obama administration.”

In the past, visiting Chinese military officials have protested U.S. legal restrictions during meetings with their American counterparts.

The restrictions were passed in the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) after an incident in the late 1990s when a visiting Chinese military officer learned through an exchange the location of a key vulnerability of U.S. aircraft carriers. Months later, U.S. intelligence agencies detected China’s purchase of guided torpedoes from Russia that appeared linked to intelligence gained by China from the visit.

The limits are variously called the DeLay amendment after former Republican House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, and the Smith guidelines after former Sen. Bob Smith, New Hampshire Republican.

The law bans “inappropriate exposure” for Chinese military visitors to 12 categories of data, including force projection and nuclear operations; advanced joint warfare know-how; surveillance and reconnaissance operations; and military space operations.

Nellis is a center of Air Force space defense activities, as well as cyberwarfare training.

China’s military is said by U.S. defense officials to be among the most aggressive at developing strategic cyberwarfare capabilities.

A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman first disclosed what he described as Gen. Chen’s plan to visit “sensitive” military facilities, including Nellis, according to Chinese state-run media. The spokesman said unspecified “special arrangements” were made with the Pentagon for the trip.

The Senate aide said the DeLay amendment does not permit any special arrangements. “A careful reading of the DeLay amendment ought to dictate more caution than the Chen itinerary appears to demonstrate,” the aide said.

A senior House Republican aide also questioned the propriety of the visit.

“In their eagerness to restore military-to-military relations with China, the Obama administration needs to take care not to violate the restrictions on such exchanges that are clearly set forth” specifically for the Chinese military in the 2000 law, said the House aide.

“Chinese military writings describe the U.S. as an enemy, and we should bear that in mind even during the most friendly exchanges.”

John Tkacik, a former State Department China specialist, said the makeup of the visiting Chinese delegation includes the Communist Party control officer for nuclear weapons, intelligence officials and commanders in charge of war-fighting against Taiwan and Japan. The lineup shows they “will be looking for intelligence relevant to their commands,” he said.

“I don’t think the Pentagon fellows who planned Gen. Chen’s itinerary were oblivious to the counterintelligence challenges that the visit poses,” Mr. Tkacik said. “But if it were me, I’d confine our Chinese guests to truly ceremonial activities at installations that don’t even present a near occasion for intelligence-gathering.”

The Chinese Defense ministry spokesman, Huang Xueping, told Xinhua that Gen. Chen’s visit would be a new beginning aimed at “advancing a new type of China-U.S. military relations built on mutual respect, cooperation and mutual benefits.”

The Obama administration and its predecessors have sought since the early 1990s to build trust with China’s military, but so far those efforts have fallen short.

During several military encounters between U.S. and Chinese forces over the past decade, Chinese military leaders could not be reached by senior U.S. officials, including during the 2001 incident involving a midair collision between a Chinese jet and U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft, and more recent harassment by Chinese ships of U.S. surveillance vessels.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide