Pace talks cadet exchange, hot line in China

By Christopher Bodeen - The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Mar 23, 2007 6:59:42 EDT

BEIJING — China’s military is proposing officer exchanges and other confidence-building measures with the Army and may be inching closer to setting up a “hotline” for emergency communication with Washington, the top U.S. general said Friday.

However, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he received no new information in meetings with Chinese military chiefs about Beijing’s test of an anti-satellite weapon in January that raised concern in Washington. He said he continued to press China’s generals for more transparency about the aims of their military buildup.

“I used the example of the anti-satellite test as how sometimes the international community can be confused, because it was a surprise that China did that, and it wasn’t clear what their intent was,” Pace said.

Pace said he immediately agreed to study the proposals put forward Friday by Gen. Liang Guanglie, chief of the Chinese army’s General Staff Department. Liang’s move suggested a departure from the skepticism with which the highly secretive People’s Liberation Army has long regarded cooperation with the U.S. military.

“To me this was a very good, open discussion and one that I found very encouraging,” Pace told reporters in Beijing.

Liang’s proposals included sending Chinese cadets to the Army academy at West Point as well as participating in joint exercises and humanitarian and relief-at-sea operations “that might be able to build trust and confidence amongst our forces.”

Military exchanges were largely suspended following a collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese jet fighter over the South China Sea in 2001. The Chinese pilot was killed and the U.S. crew held captive after making an emergency landing at a Chinese air base.

During that crisis, communication between the sides was spotty and at times nonexistent, largely because Washington had no direct channel of communications with the Chinese leadership.

Pace said the sides agreed to keep discussing setting up a “hotline” between either military or civilian leaders that would help ease any future friction.

“The Chinese military understands as well as I do that the opportunity to pick up the phone and talk to somebody you know and smooth out misunderstandings quickly is a very important part of relations between two countries,” Pace said.

Deep mistrust remains, however, particularly over Washington’s close military ties with Japan and commitment to help ensure the defense of Taiwan, the self-governing island that China considers its own territory and which it has threatened to use force to recover.

China has complained about U.S. plans to sell a batch of more than 400 missiles to Taiwan, but Pace said he had no details and didn’t indicate whether the deal was mentioned in discussions.

Asked about the possibility of a conflict over Taiwan, he said, “I believe there are good-faith efforts among all the leadership to prevent that.”

The general didn’t say how the Chinese officers responded to his calls for more transparency. China raised its military budget by 17.8 percent this year to about $45 billion — the biggest jump since 1995. The Pentagon says actual Chinese defense spending could be twice as high.

The spending boost and January’s satellite test, in which China became only the third country to destroy an object in space by pulverizing one of its own unused satellites with a missile warhead, heightened the sense of unease in Washington over China’s 2.3 million-member armed forces