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Mullen Cites Value of Hotline, Military Contacts With China

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SINGAPORE, May 30, 2008 – In the wake of the first operational use of a new hotline linking U.S. and Chinese military leaders, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today he hopes military-to-military ties between the countries continue to increase and evolve.

In an interview with a Chinese television crew here, where he’s attending the Shangri-La Dialogue -- a conference focusing on the security challenges in Asia -- Mullen called the hotline he suggested last year that became operational this year “a very positive step forward.”

A May 12 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province that killed more than 68,000 people resulted in the hotline’s first use, Mullen noted. He used the opportunity presented by the Chinese television interview to express condolences.

“I’d certainly like to offer my condolences and heartfelt sympathies to all of the Chinese people, and particularly those families who lost loved ones in the earthquake,” Mullen said.

When Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command used the new hotline to reach out to Chinese counterparts immediately after the earthquake, it facilitated speedy U.S. relief efforts, he added.

“It really was the use of that hotline by Admiral Keating that allowed immediate contact in a crisis, which is one of the things the hotline was for,” he said. “It created clear communications so the United States could offer assistance and the Chinese government could accept assistance.”

Because the line is still new, Mullen said, he would like to see it mature before suggesting changes to the process. But he said it’s an example of the growing military-to-military contacts between the United States and China.

“It’s important that we stay engaged to create a better understanding of what our intentions are and our goals are,” the chairman said. “I’ve expressed concern before about the increased defense budget in China and the technologies it’s focused on. All of this argues for the need for us to stay in discussion so we can understand strategic intent.”

Chinese strategic intent -- why China is developing these capabilities and how the country intends to use them once they’re developed -- remains unclear, Mullen said, adding that he’d like to see communications between the U.S. and Chinese militaries continue to improve.

Noting that leadership exchanges already take place between the U.S. and Chinese militaries, Mullen said he would like to see a similar investment for the countries’ younger officers, “so that when they grow up to be senior officers and run the military, they have that kind of background.”

Mullen said he wants to continue education, training and exercise cooperation between the United States and China, “and small steps taken at the very senior level between the leaders and between the militaries … that work together. At this stage of our relationship, doing that to create a better understanding is critical.”

Mullen also answered questions about tensions between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. He said the United States has not changed its position on the “One China” policy, but that he hopes “with the tension being low, over time, the Taiwan issue would become much less of an issue.”

The One China U.S. position is reflected in the Three Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act. The United States does not support Taiwan’s independence and insists on the peaceful resolution of differences between Beijing and Taipei.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who took office May 20, said in his inaugural speech that he wants to be a peacemaker, and not a troublemaker, with Beijing.

“[The Taiwan Straits] is a critical area,” Mullen said during the interview. “Historically there has been tension, and I’m hopeful that tension will reduce to a level that sends a signal for the long run it will stay very low.”

Mullen said the United States will continue its current arms sales policies toward Taiwan, stressing that the arms sent to Taiwan are defensive.

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