Thursday, May 18, 2006

Several members of Congress oppose an admiral’s proposal to ease restrictions on military exchanges with China, a move they say could boost Beijing’s forces and runs counter to a policy the Pentagon openly supports.

Adm. William Fallon, the commander of Pacific forces, sees the move as a way to prompt Beijing to be more transparent about its military buildup and to increase mutual understanding and thus avoid any “miscalculation,” said Capt. Jeff Alderson, a Pacific Command spokesman.

Adm. Fallon raised the issue with reporters on Monday in Shenyang, China, where he ended a four-day visit. Pentagon spokesmen had no immediate comment, but a Defense Department official has told Congress the restrictions are “good.”

After a series of compromises on weapons and war fighting involving visiting Chinese military officers, Congress in 2000 passed a provision of the defense authorization bill that restricted exchanges with China.

“Much of the Chinese military capabilities can be traced back to the gullibility of Americans who foolishly thought that their partnership was reciprocal,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said in a statement.

“The statement by Adm. Fallon shows that our U.S. military is playing a deadly game of misconception that will make the communist party more prosperous and places the U.S. government on the side of an oppressive dictatorship rather than with the democratic reformers in China.”

One Pentagon official said that lifting the restrictions is a bad idea and would prompt requests from China for information that could boost its military capabilities.

Capt. Alderson said Adm. Fallon did not say he planned to lobby Congress to lift the restrictions, as reported by the Associated Press.

“The admiral’s point to the Chinese is that he is limited in the types of exchanges he can conduct with them because Chinese military modernization has not been transparent and Congress legislated restrictions in the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act,” Capt. Alderson said in an e-mail sent while traveling with Adm. Fallon.

Capt. Alderson said that if China responds positively, “the admiral is willing to consider proposing to the secretary of defense that we ask to lift some or all of the current restrictions.”

Peter Rodman, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, told a congressional commission in March that the Pentagon agreed in October to cautiously expand military contacts with China. He noted the danger of any conflict with China over Taiwan.

Mr. Rodman, however, said all exchanges will follow legal guidelines contained in the defense authorization law.

“We do nothing in our contacts with China that would knowingly enhance the military capability of the People’s Liberation Army,” he said. “Those are good guidelines.”

Rep. Rob Simmons, Connecticut Republican, said he opposes closer military ties with China but favors increasing exchanges with Taiwan. The fiscal 2007 defense authorization bill contains language that would boost U.S. military ties to Taiwan, said Mr. Simmons, who supports the measure.

The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military and a recent strategy review highlight the threat posed by China, he said.

“It wasn’t too long ago one of our surveillance aircraft was harassed, crashed into by a [Chinese] MIG and forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan island,” Mr. Simmons said of the April 2001 EP-3 incident.

“Our crew was held hostage for over a week and then our aircraft was not allowed to leave. Is this ancient history?”

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