U.S., China Aim to Mend Ties

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Pentagon official yesterday cited plans to establish a crisis hotline between Washington and Beijing as well as expanded exchanges involving top U.S. and Chinese defense officials as signs of improving U.S.-Chinese military ties.

"We believe these exchanges and mechanisms have the potential to improve mutual understanding, reduce miscalculation, and contribute over time to 'demystifying' one another," Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard P. Lawless said at a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.

From a low point in April 2001 -- when military contact was all but cut off after Chinese aircraft forced down a U.S. Navy EP-3 spy plane over the South China Sea and held its 24-member crew for 11 days -- the U.S. relationship with Beijing "has grown increasingly important and complex," Lawless said.

His testimony illustrated that point by detailing favorable developments such as naval ship visits, military academy exchanges and bilateral search-and-rescue efforts, as well as more troubling ones, including Beijing's "ambitious and long-term military modernization program," which is "expanding from traditional land, sea and air dimensions of the modern battlefield to include space and cyberspace."

Lawless said that Chinese authorities are ready to move on a telephone link to enable senior-level conversations in the event of a defense crisis. However, he added that China's "counter-space efforts -- which we witnessed during the January 2007 direct ascent anti-satellite test -- will enable Beijing to hold at risk the assets of all space-faring nations."

As Pentagon studies have previously noted, Lawless said that China makes "a deliberate effort . . . to mask the nature of Chinese military capabilities," starting with the size of the country's ever-increasing defense budget. Yesterday, he estimated that China spends $85 billion to $125 billion on defense -- well below President Bush's proposed U.S. defense budget of $500 billion for next year, but well above Beijing's published figure of approximately $45 billion for 2007.

The Pentagon official emphasized China's investments in space and counter-space activities, saying that its leaders view such programs as "bolstering national prestige and, like nuclear weapons, demonstrating the attributes of a world power."

In particular, Lawless pointed to Chinese development of counter-space capability "featuring direct ascent anti-satellite weapons, ground-based lasers and satellite communication jammers." The United States has long been pursuing similar weaponry.

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he was "encouraged by the recent agreement . . . for a defense hotline to handle security emergencies," but also concerned by China's anti-satellite test and its missile buildup across from Taiwan. "I continue to believe that China's not necessarily destined to be a threat to the United States," he said, but added, "There are trends and ambiguities that concern us."

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