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More Work Needed in Military Relationship With China, Admiral Says

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2009 – The United States has made “some real headway” in improving relations with China, but “the relationship isn’t where we want it to be,” the top officer at U.S. Pacific Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

Pacom also is keeping close tabs on North Korea in light of its nuclear weapons program, and working with partners including India and Indonesia to help stem the spread of violent extremism in the region, Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating told the senators.

Keating cited solid progress in the U.S.-Sino relationship since the Chinese denied port access to the USS Kitty Hawk battle group during the 2007 Thanksgiving weekend.

“Since then, we’ve installed a hotline, [and] we’ve provided several immediate-response efforts” that included two C-17 Globemaster III aircraft providing cold-weather and earthquake relief in the region, he said.

In addition, the U.S. and Chinese militaries have conducted senior-level officer exchanges. One, led by Pacom’s senior enlisted advisor, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jim Roy, took a delegation of senior enlisted leaders to China. The Chinese reciprocated with a similar visit to Pacom’s Honolulu headquarters.

“All that said, the relationship certainly isn’t where we want it to be,” Keating told the senators. He noted that the Chinese suspended military-to-military activity in response to the U.S. announcement of arms sales to Taiwan. And just two weeks ago, five Chinese ships surrounded and harassed the USNS Impeccable surveillance ship as it operated in international waters.

“The Impeccable incident is certainly a troubling indicator that China, particularly in the South China Sea, is behaving in an aggressive, troublesome manner and [is] not willing to abide by acceptable standards of behavior or ‘rules of the road,’” he said.

These events “cause us significant concern,” Keating said.

“Those are vivid reminders that a mature, constructive mil-to-mil relationship is hardly the reality of the day,” he said, and that the People’s Republic of China’s “behavior as a responsible stakeholder has yet to be consistently demonstrated.”

China hasn’t responded to Pacom’s proposal for a direct link between Keating and his Chinese counterpart, Keating said. He noted, however, that Navy Adm. Gary Roughhead, chief of naval operations, recently used the Washington-Beijing hotline, and that he has used it as well from his Hawaii headquarters.

“But it is not a direct link from me to my counterpart,” he said.

Keating called the “slight warming” of relations between China and Taiwan an encouraging development. “We think that warming is a good sign that China and Northeast Asia are somewhat stable and are willing to consider alternatives,” he said.

As the discussion turned to North Korea’s nuclear program, Keating told the senators there’s a “high probability” that the United States could take out any North Korean missile. The United States is watching North Korea’s actions closely, Keating told the panel, so it can respond as required to a missile launch.

Pacom also is heavily focused on working with partner nations to combat violent extremism in the region, Keating said.

The command went forward with planned counterterrorism training for Indian special operations forces following November’s Mumbai terror attacks, as well as a scheduled military exercise, he told the senators. “And we have increased dialogue with senior levels of the Indian leadership, during which we discussed aspects of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency,” he said.

Similarly, Indonesia has become an increasingly important partner, Keating said.

He cited the benefit of “1206 funding,” named for the section of the National Defense Authorization Act that authorizes Pacom to help Indonesia work with its regional partners to crack down on terrorism.

“Incidents of terrorism and piracy in the Strait of Malacca have gone from 45 or so three years ago, in 2006, to two in 2008,” he said. “And we think that’s a direct reflection of the support provided by the 1206 money, amongst other reasons, including cooperation and collaboration by those countries.”

Keating said Asia and the Pacific are vitally important to the United States, particularly in light of current and projected economic, energy and demographic trends.

In an effort to maintain peace and security in the region, Pacom employs a strategy based on partnership, readiness and presence. “We think this is a blueprint for enhancing United States relationships,” Keating said, capitalizing on U.S. allies’ and regional partners’ capabilities.

“We want to enhance our position as the indispensible partner with all of those in the region through sustained and persistent collaboration and cooperation, and by employing those forces that are necessary to strengthen the partnerships and support all those conditions which preclude a necessity for combat operations,” he said.

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Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating

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U.S. Pacific Command

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