Historic Agreement Marks Secretary's China Visit
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
BEIJING, Jan. 21, 1998 On the second day of his visit to China, Defense Secretary William Cohen signed agreements designed to prevent accidents and confrontations between the U.S. and Chinese navies.
Cohen and Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian co-signed the agreement Jan. 19 as a score of high-level U.S. and Chinese military officials looked on. Cohen later said the pact strengthens U.S.-Chinese military ties and establishes a mechanism for regular communication between the two nations' militaries.
"This will improve our ability to deal with incidents at sea and increase our mutual understanding of naval and navigational practices for both ships and aircraft," he said. "As our naval and air forces have more contact, this agreement will increase understanding and reduce the chances of miscalculation.
"Secondly, the agreement demonstrates the maturing relationship between our militaries. It is the first institutional agreement of its kind between the United States and the Chinese military."
Under the agreement, DoD and the Chinese defense ministry will meet annually to discuss mutual concerns that relate to activities at sea by their naval and air forces.
U.S. and Chinese defense leaders began formulating the agreement during Chi's visit to the United States in late 1996. "It gives me a great deal of pleasure to sign this agreement on my first visit to China as secretary of defense," Cohen said.
Chi shared his hope that the agreement will be implemented smoothly "so that it will better serve the effort that the two sides are making for deeper mutual understanding, mutual trust, and friendly relations and cooperation."
Cohen arrived here Jan. 17 for three days of meetings with Chinese civilian and military leaders, including President Jiang Zemin. At a welcoming banquet Jan. 18 in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, the secretary talked of the World War II Sino-U.S. alliance against Japan and called for a continued improvement of ties.
"During these times of economic difficulty being experienced throughout the entire Asia-Pacific region, and given the tension that could exist, it is more important than ever that we remind ourselves that we have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the past and that we should stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the future," Cohen said.
Cohen struck would could be another first Jan. 19, when he became probably the first American official to visit the Beijing Air Defense Center. Chinese officials set up the visit, possibly as a reciprocal gesture of openness. Chinese military delegations earlier visited the North American Defense Command headquarters in Colorado.
At any rate, officials accompanying Cohen on the trip here said the visit to the Chinese facility signals greater openness than the secretary had envisioned. They said Coben's party, which included Adm. Joseph Prueher, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, were impressed with the center's sophisticated integration. The center can track both aircraft and missiles and apparently also can launch surface-to-air missiles, although nobody in the visiting party actually observed that capability.
Cohen said his trip here signaled a growing level of military cooperation following Jiang's summit meeting with President Clinton in Washington last October. During his scheduled visit with Jiang before departing for Tokyo Jan. 20, the secretary was expected to sign more agreements for further military exchanges between the two countries.