Navy leader cites progress with China
The commander of Pacific Forces urges China to be more open about its military*
The United States is having some success encouraging China to be more transparent about its military, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific said yesterday.
But Adm. William Fallon said Beijing would need to open up further before he will suggest that Congress loosen restrictions on military contact between the two Pacific powers.
"I think we're making progress, and I'd like to see us continue to move down this path," Fallon said in an interview at Camp Smith on Oahu. "Then I'd feel more comfortable going back to Washington and recommending they make some adjustments."
U.S. law limits exposure of the Chinese military to certain U.S. operational areas and requires the U.S. military to submit annual reports of its contacts with the People's Liberation Army.
Fallon added he would need to see "continued movement" from China before he suggests that Congress change the law. That would mean a "real, transparent, two-way relationship here," he said, "and not just us offering things. It needs to really be developed."
Fallon has pushed to increase bilateral military contacts since he assumed control of the Pacific Command in February last year, saying the two countries must understand each other to avoid miscalculation.
Military ties between the United States and China have never been close, but they deteriorated after a U.S. Navy spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet collided off China's southern coast in 2001.
Fallon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials have repeatedly called on China to explain why it is rapidly modernizing its military and has boosted its military spending by double-digit percentages for about a decade.
Last month, the Pentagon said China was buying more long-range aircraft and weapons that would allow it to compete with the United States and potentially pose a threat to other countries in the region. It said China's military modernization suggested it was looking beyond Taiwan, the self-governing island it considers a renegade province.
Some U.S. critics have labeled as naive Fallon's efforts to boost ties with China's military, charging it exposes the U.S. military to examination by China without ensuring U.S. officers win the same access to China's forces.
Fallon countered it would be irresponsible for him not to work with the most populous nation and Asia's second-largest economy.
"I can only ask, So what would they have us do, just sit here and be a sphinx?" he said. "It's in the interests of our country to engage with these people and not just stick our heads in the sand and just find things to quibble over."
Fallon said he was not one to be blind to any potential security challenge from China.
"Having spent 39 years in uniform in military service, I think I'm at least sensitive to the potential for things maybe not going the way we'd like to see them. We take the prudent precautions necessary," Fallon said.
Rumsfeld approved increasing exchanges in October during a visit to Beijing. Since then a delegation of Chinese officers has visited military bases in Hawaii and Alaska, and another Chinese group visited Camp Smith to see how the Pacific Command handled administrative tasks.
A delegation of Pacific Command officers has visited China, while Fallon himself traveled there in May for a week of meetings and military installation tours.
Fallon said it was "a start" that China accepted his invitation to observe large-scale exercises the U.S. military plans to hold off Guam next week.
"We take the step to invite them. There's an expectation that they will reciprocate," Fallon said.
The June 19-23 exercises will have three aircraft carriers operating together in the Pacific for the first time since the Vietnam War. Altogether some 30 ships, 280 aircraft and 22,000 troops will participate in the drills.
Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Australia also plan to send observers to the exercises, named "Valiant Shield."
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
» Adm. William Fallon is the top U.S. military commander for the Pacific, and he is based at Camp Smith. A sub-headline on Page A5 yesterday incorrectly referred to him as the commander at Pearl Harbor.