Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has agreed to visit China this year and the Pentagon is discussing the creation of a telephone hot line to the Chinese military, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

“We’ve agreed in principle and [Mr. Rumsfeld is] interested in going,” a senior defense official said, noting that no date has been set.

Mr. Rumsfeld has not visited the communist state since becoming defense secretary in 2001, despite repeated invitations from Chinese officials.

Asked why Mr. Rumsfeld has delayed the China trip, the senior official said: “I think the fact that we’re at war is an issue, and that his travel schedule is necessarily oriented toward Europe and the Middle East.”

Officials who briefed reporters on the visit to China last week of a U.S. delegation headed by Richard Lawless, the deputy assistant defense secretary for East Asia, said China has stepped up criticism of the United States in a recent defense report and has increased its harsh rhetoric against Taiwan.

The meetings were part of what the Pentagon calls the Special Party Dialogue and included the proposed communications link between the Pentagon and Chinese defense ministries.

“For us, it is very frustrating for the Chinese not to accept the gesture that we have made with the [defense telecommunications link],” the senior official said.

China at first rejected the plan but during meetings in Beijing Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 said it is interested in “studying seriously” the hot line, the senior official said.

During the talks, the U.S. side also questioned the Chinese about specific references to the United States in the Chinese defense white paper issued in December, and on dire descriptions of the China-Taiwan standoff across the Taiwan Strait.

The Chinese report said China-Taiwan ties are “grim” and that Chinese military forces are prepared to “crush” Taiwan. The report also blamed the United States for “complicating” the security of the Asia-Pacific region.

“We’re talking about an escalation of rhetoric,” the senior official said.

The military exchange program with China was put on hold for 22 months after the April 2001 collision between a U.S. EP-3 surveillance aircraft and Chinese F-8 jet over the South China Sea.

China’s military imprisoned the EP-3’s 23-member crew for 11 days after the plane made an emergency landing on Hainan island after the collision, which was caused by the Chinese pilot.

Military exchanges have not been resumed at the level of the Clinton administration, the officials said.

“We’ve taken a different approach,” the senior official said. “It’s a moderate and measured pace [of military exchanges] and it fits our criteria of transparency and reciprocity.”

Critics of earlier military exchanges with China have said Beijing’s military visitors here were allowed to see sensitive U.S. military facilities, such as the Pentagon’s National Command Center, while China refused to permit visits to similar sites in China.

Officials said yesterday that China has not responded to repeated requests to allow U.S. military officials to see China’s Western Hills Command Center, a secret underground facility that is considered a key command post.

In an related development, State Department arms control official John Bolton said in Tokyo yesterday that China’s government has not done enough to halt arms and missile proliferation to rogue states.

Mr. Bolton, in a speech, said China’s government has ignored U.S. appeals to help halt Chinese companies from transferring arms to nations such as Iran, including proliferation activities by the China North Industries Corp., he said.

The administration has imposed sanctions on China 62 times since 2001 and will continue to do so until Beijing takes action to halt arms proliferation, he said.

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