Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s unusual offer to China’s military to join a major U.S.-led naval exercise in the Pacific prompted several U.S. security officials to express fears privately that China will gain valuable war-fighting intelligence from the Rimpac, or Rim of the Pacific, exercise.
China’s military will learn details on how the United States conducts coalition warfare, a strategic war-fighting capability. It also will learn valuable data on U.S. communications used in naval warfare maneuvers, said defense officials familiar with the war games.
Such cooperation also would violate legal restrictions on military exchanges with China that were imposed by Congress to prevent unrestricted cooperation with Beijing from enhancing Chinese war-fighting.
Mr. Panetta announced in Beijing Tuesday that the Navy “will invite China to send a ship to participate in Rimpac 2014 exercise.”
Rim of the Pacific is “the world’s largest international maritime exercise,” Mr. Panetta said.
The most recent exercises were held from June into August and included forces from 22 nations. About 25,000 troops, 40 ships, six submarines and more than 200 aircraft participated.
If China takes part, Chinese military intelligence would be given access to sensitive information on the planning for the exercise and the communications and procedures used in maneuvering large groups of forces from different nations. China could use the information in a future conflict, considering its growing cyberwarfare capabilities.
A defense official said the offer for China to join the exercise grew out of the visit to China in June by Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command. Adm. Locklear was asked about Rimpac and told Chinese military leaders that participation in the exercise was prohibited by a 2000 law restricting Chinese military exchanges.
A provision of the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits any contacts with the People’s Liberation of Army that pose a national security risk, including joint war-fighting capabilities, a key element of the international war games.
To circumvent the restriction, the Pentagon over the past few months had lawyers review the prohibition. They told Mr. Panetta he could authorize the Chinese military participation by asserting it would not undermine U.S. security.
However, Pentagon officials are concerned that Congress, especially House Republicans, will step in and oppose or block the Chinese warship involvement.
The 2000 law prohibits all “inappropriate exposure” for Chinese military visitors to 12 categories of information, including force projection and nuclear operations; advanced joint warfare know-how; surveillance and reconnaissance operations; and military space operations.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on government operations, said in an interview that inviting China to Rimpac is a bad idea and would be like inviting Iranian gunboats to join maneuvers in the Persian Gulf to prevent collisions.
“Is this what pivot to the Pacific means?” The California Republican asked of the U.S. effort to bolster forces in the Pacific against China’s high-tech weaponry. “I thought the pivot was meant to make us stronger, not weaker.”
Mr. Rohrabacher also said such cooperation is not just impractical, but illegal.
“The Defense Authorization Act of 2000 prohibits this kind of military contact with China,” he said. “This is not only unwise, but illegal. It would be putting our military in a cooperative situation with a potential enemy.”
During a Chinese military visit to sensitive U.S. military bases in May, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called for a review of the military restrictions.
“Congress must immediately review existing prohibitions against giving Chinese officials access to sensitive information and determine if they need to be strengthened,” the Florida Republican said.
The state-run Chinese newspaper Global Times said in June that China was snubbed by not being invited to this year’s exercise and was “a little bit lonely.”
Unreported in the Chinese press was Beijing’s pique at Russia taking part in Rimpac. China has sought to use its ties to Russia in developing an anti-U.S. alliance in Asia. Analysts say Russian participation in Rimpac undermined that goal.
Missile tests target Taiwan
Chinese military forces recently carried out a series of ballistic and cruise-missile flight tests that simulated salvos of attacks on Taiwan, according to U.S. officials.
The tests included multiple firings of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles as well as land-attack cruise missiles — key elements of what the Pentagon calls China’s anti-access, area-denial arms.
The missile tests were monitored by U.S. spy agencies, which reported that the tests used capabilities designed to penetrate missile defenses and to hit “hardened” or protected targets.
China has between 1,000 and 1,600 DF-16 medium-range missiles and DF-11 and DF-15 short-range missiles within range of Taiwan. It also recently deployed a new DH-10 land-attack cruise missile.
The missile salvos were carried out around the time of the visit to China by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was snubbed by China’s next ruler, Vice President Xi Jinping, after he abruptly canceled a planned meeting with the secretary.
Mrs. Clinton visited China Sept. 4, and U.S. officials said the snub was deliberately aimed at the secretary and her top Asia hand, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt M. Campbell, whom the Chinese regard as a hard-liner.
The anti-Taiwan missile tests followed a series of long-range flight tests of Chinese missiles that began in July, with the first test of a new road-mobile DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile. U.S. intelligence agencies think the missile will carry between three and 10 warheads — China’s first multiple-warhead ICBM.
The Chinese also flight-tested a new JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile, a CSS-4 Mod 2 silo-based ICBM and a road-mobile DF-31A ICBM in recent weeks.
Asked about the missile tests, a State Department official said, “We are well aware of China’s extensive military modernization efforts and are monitoring them closely. We remain concerned about the lack of transparency from China.”
Russia resignation rumors
U.S. intelligence agencies are closely watching the Russian leadership amid signs that the defense minister and chief of the military’s general staff may be ousted.
Moscow’s tightly controlled press reported earlier this month that Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the chief of staff, were about to resign and that key subordinates are under investigation for corruption charges.
The reports were followed by a public statement of support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appeared on television Monday with both Russian officials standing behind him.
The resignation reports began Sept. 13 when the weekly newspaper Argumenti Nedeli stated that Mr. Serdyukov and Gen. Makarov were about to step down, quoting sources on the presidential staff.
The report said Mr. Putin planned to replace the defense minister with a security service official, as he has done with several other senior Russian government posts. The report identified Col. Gen. Nikolay Postnikov-Streltsov, currently first deputy chief of the general staff, as the likely successor to Gen. Makarov.
A day earlier, the Moscow Post reported an unusual personal attack on Gen. Makarov that alleged his wife, Tanya, was directly involved in official personnel decisions.
The newspaper also said that Gen. Makarov had promoted a key underling, Lt. Gen. Nikolay Pereslegin, currently first deputy commander of the Southern Military District, to several senior positions. The appointments were said to be part of an effort to prepare the deputy to replace himself and cover up mistakes made by Gen. Makarov if he were to lose his post.
Then on Sept. 17, the website Agentstvo Politicheskikh Novostey, reported on corruption charges related to Mr. Serdyukov, who was accused of procuring an inferior radar for the MiG-31 interceptor from a company that was connected to the defense minister.
The recent attacks on the two leaders, while not unprecedented, were unusual for their stridency, U.S. officials said.
The attacks came as criminal charges were brought against close associates of Mr. Serdyukov and Gen. Makarov.