Thursday, April 5, 2007

China’s senior military leaders refused to disclose any details about a recent test of a new anti-satellite weapon system or other aspects of a secret space-arms program, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters yesterday.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, who recently returned from a four-day visit to China, also said NATO forces have launched a spring offensive in Afghanistan against ousted Taliban militia.

On China’s Jan. 11 test, Gen. Pace said he asked Chinese leaders during several meetings about the use of a missile to destroy a Chinese satellite in low-earth orbit.

“I was very direct with them. I told them that, you know, as we look at transparency, it was difficult for the world to understand what China was doing with their anti-satellite test,” Gen. Pace said. “They had not announced it beforehand, they did not acknowledge it until significantly after they did it, and therefore, the world was confused about what the intent was and what their policies toward space activity were. They did not answer that question.”

Gen. Pace said that on some issues, the Chinese military leaders were “very open,” but “they were not open about that.”

Pentagon officials said intelligence estimates indicate that China will have produced enough satellite interceptors by 2010 to destroy most U.S. low-earth orbit satellites. It was hoped that the Chinese would disclose to Gen. Pace more details about the anti-satellite weapons program, which also includes ground-based lasers and electronic jammers that — if used against both military and civilian satellites — would severely damage U.S. government and society.

Asked about the Chinese refusal to explain the anti-satellite program, Gen. Pace said, “Well, on that specific point, I don’t know what their policy is and I don’t know what their intent was, so I am still, as are others, confused.”

Gen. Pace met with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liang Guanglie, chief of the Chinese general staff; Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing; and Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan.

He discussed Taiwan with Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, the Communist Party entity that runs the military. Despite the silence on the anti-satellite test, Gen. Pace described the visit as “very productive” and said the Chinese “demonstrated their desire to increase” the transparency of their military activities.

On the spring military offensive in Afghanistan, Gen. Pace said “the NATO operations have begun.”

“This is a NATO operation that, by name, started probably three or four weeks ago and will continue now for several months at various levels of intensity as various pockets of enemy are identified and taken under action,” he said.

Gen. Pace declined to say how large the military offensive is because it would reveal to “our enemies what they might possibly avoid or not avoid.”

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who met reporters with Gen. Pace, said he has been worried that the level of violence in Afghanistan during springtime has increased “fairly steadily” in the past two or three years.

The NATO offensive is to make sure “that with our focus on Iraq, that we did not take our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, either.” To bolster forces in Afghanistan, Mr. Gates said that he extended the mission of a U.S. brigade in the country and that other forces will be sent from Europe.

“This is part of a longer-term effort not just to defeat renewed Taliban attempts to stake out a position in southern and eastern Afghanistan in particular, but to help the Afghan government strengthen its capacity to help the Afghan people for economic development, for better governance, to get control of the narcotics problem,” Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Gates said he met yesterday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to discuss Afghanistan and the need for NATO members to fulfill troop and equipment commitments and to improve coordination and cooperation.

Both Pentagon leaders said the plan to add five combat brigades to Baghdad for stability operations is on schedule to have most of the forces in place by June. Mr. Gates said any decision on troops withdrawals from Iraq would be made by Central Command leaders no earlier than this summer.

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