Chinese Observers Watch U.S. Wargames

The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 20, 2006; 4:02 PM

SHANGHAI, China -- For the first time, Chinese military officers are observing American war games in the Pacific, where the two countries have potential conflicts over Taiwan and Beijing's territorial claims.

Beijing said Tuesday that it has sent a delegation to five-day exercises that began Monday at the U.S. island territory of Guam, east of the Philippines. They involve 30 ships _ including three aircraft carriers _ 22,000 troops and 280 aircraft.

The 10-member Chinese delegation includes one top-ranking officer each from the army, air force and navy, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Xinhua said the Chinese delegation toured the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan on Sunday.

"The invitation to observe the U.S. military exercises is a very important component of exchanges between the militaries of China and the United States," Xinhua said, quoting an unnamed Defense Ministry official.

"This is not only beneficial to mutual understanding and confidence-building, but it is also beneficial to mutual study and reference, and for advancing the continued development of our militaries," the official was quoted as saying.

The Chinese were invited to attend the exercises by the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, Adm. William Fallon, during a tour of China last month.

Fallon has pushed hard for more regular exchanges between the two militaries, which have had little interaction since the 2001 collision of a U.S. Navy plane and a Chinese fighter jet.

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Fallon said the U.S. was having some success encouraging China to be more transparent about its military, but Beijing would have to open up further before he would suggest Congress loosen restrictions on military contacts.

China's 2.3 million-member armed forces, the world's largest, retain a culture of intense secrecy. Military analysts say some Chinese commanders believe more openness may reveal too much about the tactics and capabilities of the country's forces.

China has threatened to use force to assert its claim to Taiwan, a U.S. ally that Washington is legally bound to respond to if threatened. China also says it owns islands in the South China Sea that are also claimed by nations friendly to the U.S., and has feuded with Washington's ally Japan over ownership of undersea gas deposits.

© 2006 The Associated Press