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Pacific Commander to Visit China to Bolster Communication, Cooperation

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2008 – The top U.S. military officer in the Pacific is slated to travel to China to help bolster the two countries’ military relationship and iron out issues, including those over China’s recent port denials to U.S. Navy ships.

Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, will leave his Honolulu headquarters tomorrow for the four-day visit, his second visit to China since taking command in March. James Shinn, sworn in yesterday as the new assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, will join Keating on the trip.

While in China, Keating is slated to meet with senior officials from the Central Military Commission, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Guangzhou Military Area Command and the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The trip also will include stops in Shanghai, China’s financial hub, and Guangzhou, where Keating will visit Chinese army bases and hold a seminar with Chinese military officials, the Chinese National Defense Ministry announced.

Keating said he hopes build on groundwork laid during his visit to China in May to strengthen Sino-U.S. military ties.

The visit follows Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ visit with Chinese leaders in early November and the U.S.-Peoples’ Republic of China annual defense consultative talks, led by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric S. Edelman, in early December.

“This trip is an opportunity to meet with key leaders and build relationships that will ultimately ensure greater cooperation and collaboration across the spectrum of military-to-military relations,” Keating said.

Keating said his goal is to develop and enhance a constructive relationship through increased military-to-military engagement. “We will work with our Chinese counterparts to increase understanding between our militaries, encourage cooperation on mutual security concerns, capitalize on gains we have realized and reduce chances for miscalculation.”

Discussions are expected to include China’s denial of a Thanksgiving port call to Hong Kong by U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk battle group, and an earlier denial to U.S. minesweepers seeking refuge from a brewing storm.

Keating told Pentagon reporters days after the Kitty Hawk incident that he’s concerned by the port visit denials, calling them “perplexing and troublesome,” particularly when hundreds of the sailors’ family members had flown from Japan to spend the holiday with their loved ones.

By the time China reversed its decision, the U.S. ships had already turned around. “It was too late by then,” Keating told reporters.

The incident came on the heels of what the admiral called an even more troublesome situation: China’s refusal to admit two U.S. minesweepers into Hong Kong to seek refuge from a brewing storm.

The Patriot and Guardian were operating in international waters when fierce weather conditions drove them to seek shelter in Hong Kong, Keating said. China refused their request, forcing them to get refueled at sea so they could return to their homeport in Sasebo, Japan.

China’s denial of their request violated “an unwritten rule among seamen that if someone is in need, regardless of genus, phylum or species, you let them come in -- you give them safe harbor,” Keating said.

A senior defense official said this week on background that the misunderstanding that led to the port visit denials signals the potential for much more serious misunderstandings in the future that could have strategic consequences if not cleared up now.

“The whole experience showed us that we have a lot to do to better understand what the Chinese are doing and to help the Chinese understand our position on things,” he said.

The bottom line, Keating told reporters in November, is that solid communication between the United States and China will help reduce the potential for misunderstanding. This will leave “less room for confusion that could lead to confrontation, to crisis,” he said.

“That’s our goal,” he said. “To get there, we reduce the chance for misunderstanding.”

In addition to discussing the decision-making process within the Chinese military and explaining the United States’ own process, Keating will push for more and larger U.S.-Sino exercises and exchanges.

China recently turned down an invitation to participate as an observer in the Rim of the Pacific naval exercise this summer in Hawaii. Russia announced that it will be a first-time participant in the multinational exercise that takes place every other year in the waters off Oahu and Kauai.

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U.S. Pacific Command

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Adm. Timothy J. Keating, USN

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