Fallon sees expansion in U.S.-China relations
The outgoing leader of Pacific forces views a recent arms test as a "regrettable" setback
The outgoing U.S. military commander in the Pacific says it's regrettable that China recently fired a missile into space to shoot down a satellite, noting Beijing has repeatedly vowed to follow a peaceful path to development.
But Navy Adm. William J. Fallon said the incident, in which China destroyed one of its own defunct weather satellites last month, shouldn't hinder U.S. moves to expand military relations with the growing Asian power. Such bilateral exchanges are needed in part to show Beijing that Americans have no plans to invade China but are committed to defending Taiwan as required by U.S. law, he said.
The satellite test was likely part of a People's Liberation Army effort to develop the ability to counter U.S. military power if there is a face-off over Taiwan, Fallon said in an interview with the Associated Press last week.
Satellites have become increasingly important to U.S. forces in recent years. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has used satellite technology to deliver precision-guided bombs directly to their targets.
"It's regrettable that we see events like this because there are very few people in the world that have satellites relative to others, and it's pretty obvious why someone would be trying to acquire this capability," Fallon said.
The Jan. 11 missile test, confirmed by Beijing after two weeks of silence, made China only the third country after Russia and the United States to shoot down anything in space.
Fallon said the pursuit of such capabilities would seem to contradict statements from Chinese officials that the country wants to grow peacefully.
"Leadership ought to consider carefully its actions and the actions of its subordinates and the messages that they send to others in the world," he said. "China has been very vocal, particularly in recent years, stating its absolute adherence to a peaceful future and to development of the security of itself as its priority.
"If that's the case, then what's with these kind of steps?"
The admiral spoke a few weeks before he is due to leave his Hawaii headquarters of the last two years to take over as the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East. He'll be based at the Tampa, Fla., offices of the U.S. Central Command.
At the Pacific Command, Fallon has pushed to resume and increase U.S.-China military exchanges to reduce the risk of either side misinterpreting the other's actions. The steps warmed relations largely frozen when a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese jet fighter collided off the coast of China in 2001.
Expanded exchanges led to the two militaries holding bilateral naval search-and-rescue exercises and communications drills last year. The two countries also increased port visits.
More activities are being planned this year, Fallon said, though he didn't offer details.
He predicted the relationship would likely improve over time but suffer setbacks along the way.
"As with most things in the world, it's not a rocketing ascent. Things move forward in fits and starts," Fallon said. "I think we're moving forward. Again, no cloudburst of brilliant sunlight and everything is all different, but steady progress."
The goal, the admiral said, is to bring China into the world community as a constructive, major player.
He said the People's Republic of China has a ways to go in the this regard, as exemplified by Beijing's initial denial and later acknowledgment it fired the missile.
"As the PRC develops, and changes from this inwardly focused, secretive state, to one in which they are engaged more with the outside world, they have adjustments to make," Fallon said. "This isn't going to happen on a one-way street. We have to engage, bring them along, encourage them by our actions and ... establish some significant amount of trust."