Monday, January 29, 2007

China’s most senior military war planner is visiting the United States, and Pentagon officials plan to question him about Beijing’s recent anti-satellite test.

Gen. Ge Zhenfeng, deputy chief of the general staff, arrived in Hawaii on Sunday. He is leading a delegation of officers that are part of a U.S.-China military exchange program.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is not expected to meet with Gen. Ge, and the Pentagon is seeking to play down the visit by giving Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker the lead role in the 11-day visit.

Defense officials said they do not expect Gen. Ge to be more forthcoming than other Chinese officials who have refused to explain China’s Jan. 11 anti-satellite missile test.

“They haven’t been forthcoming at all,” said one defense official. “This is something that we’ll continue to press them on.”

Gen. Ge is considered China’s most important war planner and ground forces commander. He took part in China’s first joint war games with Russia in 2005 and is in charge of managing the Chinese military’s close ties to the North Korean military.

Defense officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said senior Pentagon officials considered canceling Gen. Ge’s visit because of the anti-satellite weapons test. The Chinese fired a commercial rocket with an anti-satellite warhead that then crashed into an orbiting Chinese weather satellite, destroying it on impact.

U.S. officials consider the test provocative because it was China’s first acknowledged use of space weapons. The Chinese government has publicly called for an international ban on such weapons.

“He’ll probably give us the same shrugs we’ve seen in the past,” the defense official said of Gen. Ge.

The defense official said the Pentagon is concerned about Chinese anti-satellite weapons and has been tracking its space-weapons development for some time.

“It’s disturbing to see that they’ve conducted a test,” the official said, noting that it indicates that the Chinese have “transcended” from research and development into action.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said in a speech yesterday that the Chinese anti-satellite test was a “wake-up call” that should prompt a major program to counter China from attacking U.S. satellites.

“The January 11th test also shows China’s ability to hit targets in low-Earth orbit where most of American reconnaissance assets are deployed,” Mr. Kyl said in a speech to the Heritage Foundation.

An Army spokesman said that the focus of Gen. Ge’s visit will be on how the Army conducts “professional military education” and that Gen. Schoomaker is not expected to make a reciprocal visit to China because he is stepping down as chief.

Gen. Ge and nine other Chinese military officers are visiting the U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu and then will visit the Army’s Fort Lewis, Wash., base. They will visit the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., on Monday.

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