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U.S. Seeks To Broaden Military Contacts with China

U.S. Seeks To Broaden Military Contacts with China, Admiral Says

U.S. commander in Pacific points to strong bilateral ties in other areas

By Jane A. Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- U.S.-China military contacts should match the already strong ties that exist between the two countries in economic and political spheres, says Admiral William Fallon, the commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific (PACOM).

Fallon, who is just six months into his new job, is a 38-year Navy veteran. Visiting China for the first time in 35 years, the admiral took time to talk to reporters in Beijing September 7, the first stop in a weeklong tour of the country that also includes Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guangzhou and some of the military bases and facilities in southern China.

During his discussions with his military counterparts and the Chinese foreign minister, the admiral said, there has been a consensus that there needs to be broader military-to-military contact.

"There's a vast economic interchange between the U.S. and China," he observed. "There's a growing and deepening political dialogue.... But the military-to-military relationship has been lagging, and I think it's important that we address this issue, because as the ties between the two countries deepen, I think there's really a need to make sure that we are moving forward on all fronts."

"[T]he messages that I'm carrying are quite simply: Let's see what we can do to increase our interactions .... Let's work on transparency and reciprocity," he said.

Fallon said that openness and the sharing of information and ideas reduce general anxiety, fears of the unknown and suspicions. "We would like to move forward in this area," he said.

The admiral noted that U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush are planning to visit China in the near future. President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao are also scheduled to meet during the 60th United Nations General Assembly in New York September 14-16.

Improving the well-being of ordinary life, Fallon observed, "is pretty well impossible unless people are able to live in an atmosphere of security and stability. So I view this as one of the principal tasks of my assignment out here in the Pacific and in Asia -- to work on these issues."

Fallon said he was impressed by "the generosity of the Chinese people and the Chinese government in offering aid and assistance to the United States in the aftermath of the hurricane in the [U.S.] Gulf region."

"I'm particularly touched by the rapid willingness to come and help my country, particularly in view of the fact that, even here in China in the last several days, there have been substantial casualties and a lot of damage from the recent typhoon [Talim], particularly in the Anhui province where there has been a lot of flooding and many casualties and many homes lost, and the fact that people of this country will be willing to go and help us halfway around the world," he said.

Natural disasters, he said, provide opportunities for militaries to work together and learn lessons in the process, as happened in the Pacific during the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster in December 2004.

"It's not really about military hardware or any kind of threatening business," he said. "It's about using the capabilities, the organization, the discipline, the communications, and so forth, to form a foundation. It's a way to get together."

Regarding the issue of Taiwan, Fallon reiterated the U.S. "one-China policy" and support for "the eventual resolution in a very peaceful means of this entire situation." Taiwan, he said, "is very clearly a political issue, and that's where it ought to be -- not a military issue."

The expanding size and capability of China's military, especially its Navy, Fallon said, "is pretty understandable in view of the growth of China. Economically, I see this tremendous increase over the years. I would expect to see some commensurate increase in the military capability."

"But the fact that we've had virtually no interaction with the U.S. and Chinese navies, except for a couple of port visits, tells me that there's lots of room to get to know one another better," he said.

"For the region, I believe it's important for more than just the U.S.-Chinese relationship, but the region can benefit from this," Fallon added. Nations in the Asia-Pacific do not want to see any increased tension between the United States and China, he said.

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