Pacific Commander, Chinese General Agree to Promote Bilateral Training
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 16, 2008 The top U.S. commander in the Pacific reported today that he and a top Chinese commander agreed last night to work toward bringing their militaries together for two bilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster response exercises.
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, during an address at the Heritage Foundation here, called the informal agreement another sign of the distinct warming of U.S.-Sino relations and increasing Chinese interest in building closer military-to-military ties.
Keating said he and Chinese Lt. Gen. Zhang Qinsheng agreed over dinner last night “to begin active consideration” of a plan to exercise their forces together in a disaster relief scenario. Keating and Zhang, commander of the Guangzhou Military Region, discussed the possibility of two exercises, one in China and one in Hawaii or elsewhere in the United States, Keating said.
The exercises probably will be land-based rather than sea-based, bringing additional training elements beyond search-and-rescue and ship maneuvering operations. “We want to expand the envelope, and we want to push the envelope,” Keating said.
While hoping to begin the exercises “relatively soon,” Keating said, he recognizes that China won’t be able to focus on pushing the concept forward at least until the Olympics in August. In addition, Keating cited the need to coordinate within U.S. Defense and State department channels to get the necessary agreements and lay the framework for the training.
But with leaders at both U.S. departments emphasizing the need to move beyond Cold War paradigms toward more positive exchanges with China, Keating expressed optimism the plan will proceed.
“After the Olympics and before the first of the year, we hope to engage in staff talks to lay out a plan,” he told reporters today. He expressed hope the military-to-military exercises could begin within 15 to 18 months from last night’s handshake.
Keating cited China’s acceptance of U.S. military aid following a devastating magnitude 7.9 earthquake that hit the central Sichuan province as a sign of China’s increased willingness to engage with the United States. China allowed two U.S. military C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft to deliver generators, chain saws and humanitarian relief supplies.
During his two visits there since arriving at PaCom last year, and in reciprocal Chinese visits in the United States, Keating said, he’s seen solid progress in eroding historic divisions. He’s “more optimistic” now than a year ago about the state of the two countries’ military-to-military relationship, and hopeful that China will engage in more multilateral exercises with the United States and others in the region.
As the U.S., Japanese, Australian, Singaporean and Indian navies gathered for the recent Malabar exercise, Keating said, anyone concluding that the goal was to surround China “is 180 degrees wrong.”
“We are not looking to surround them. We want to draw them out,” he said. “We want them to join these other countries.”
Keating expressed hope that over time, China will participate in more personnel exchanges, and even go so far as to engage on a peaceful basis with Taiwan.
“I think it would be terrific if, over time, we would have Chinese military officers and Taiwan military officers and United States military officers, all sitting in the same classroom at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies,” he said.
The United States has sent China “an open invitation” and hopes it will accept, Keating said.
“I don’t know if the Chinese will accept the offer tomorrow, but they need to understand, as I have emphasized to them, that the lanai light is always on for them,” he said.
Keating said he’s convinced that the best way to prevent tensions between the United States and China is through openness that leads to understanding.
“I am firmly convinced we are much better suited as a military and as a country to engage in open dialogue [with China] … to ensure they understand our motives and we understand theirs,” he said.