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China Relationship Key to U.S. Strategy, Official Says

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2007 – A strong U.S.-China relationship is important in promoting peace and stability in Asia, and the United States is working to shape China’s choices positively, a top Defense Department official said here yesterday.

Testifying before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Richard Lawless, deputy undersecretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said China’s rapid military transformation has significant implications for the United States.

“Our policy is to shape China's choices in ways that foster constructive cooperation in addressing common security challenges,” Lawless said. “It is through these efforts the Department of Defense supports the broader U.S. government objective of building a cooperative, constructive relationship with China.”

The pace and scope of China's military transformation has accelerated each year, Lawless said. China continues to invest heavily in the modernization of its military, particularly in weapons and capabilities for power projection and access denial, he added.

“The lack of transparency behind this effort continues to be a source of concern,” he said. “China's military modernization appears focused on preparing for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait.”

China continues to deploy short-range ballistic missiles to garrisons opposite Taiwan, Lawless said. The People’s Liberation Army maintains more than 700 combat aircraft within operational range of Taiwan, and modern aircraft are making up a growing percentage of the force, he said.

China’s navy has also been modernizing with new submarines, advanced long-range anti-ship cruise missiles, and ship-based air defenses, Lawless said. China's counterspace developments, punctuated by the successful test in January of a direct-descent anti-satellite weapon, poses dangers to human space flight and threatens the assets of spacefaring nations, he added.

“In the face of these potentially disruptive developments, the United States continues to monitor closely China's military modernization while pushing for greater transparency,” he said. “At the same time, as our (Quadrennial Defense Review) outlines, the department will continue to work with partner states to build capacity and reduce vulnerabilities.”

China’s emergence as a world power brings the opportunity for it to demonstrate whether or not it will contribute responsibly to regional and global challenges, Lawless said. In the last year, China has begun to view the North Korean nuclear issue with more concern and has improved its posture against nuclear proliferation. The United States continues to encourage China to more fully leverage its relationship with North Korea to convince leaders to give up nuclear ambitions, he said.

China is beginning to benefit from its long-term investment in military modernization, Lawless noted, but with that comes the risk for miscalculation. The United States may underestimate China’s military power, or China’s leaders may overestimate themselves and act recklessly, he said.

“This is an important factor to consider as the United States military assesses its own transformation efforts and considers how best to manage and shape this critical relationship with China,” he said.

Lawless also highlighted the advances made in the military-to-military relationship between the United States and China. In 2006, the two countries completed a two-phase bilateral search-and-rescue exercise, and China has shown greater willingness and interest in assisting efforts to account for American servicemembers missing from past conflicts, he said. He added that he expects to see progress on the development of a defense telephone link between the two countries, and a dialogue on nuclear policy, doctrine and strategy.

“We have made incremental yet meaningful progress in the quality and quantity of our educational and functional exchanges with China, and we seek to build on this progress with the objective of demystifying one another,” he said.

Defense exchange can play an important role in supporting President Bush’s overall vision for a U.S.-China relationship, which is key to a prosperous, stable Asia-Pacific region, Lawless said. He stressed that DoD will continue to work with China to encourage responsible decisions.

“The United States has long been a force for stability in the region, and we will continue to play that positive role,” he said.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission was created by the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act to monitor, investigate and submit to Congress an annual report on the national security implications of the relationship between the U.S. and China, and to provide recommendations for legislative and administrative action.

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