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Balance Critical to U.S.-China Relationship, Officials Say

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2006 – The relationship between the United States and China has been improving, but the U.S. must balance this constructive relationship with the need to hedge against possible threats, two Defense Department officials said here yesterday.

Testifying at a hearing of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said China's economic rise, the growth of its military power and its overall comprehensive national power are important elements in U.S. strategy that have enormous implications for the region and the world.

Rodman said he accompanied Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to China in October 2005, and on that trip, important steps were made in improving the U.S.-China military relationship. Rumsfeld and Chinese leaders agreed to expand military-to-military contacts, such as high-level and ship visits and exchanges of officers and personnel, he said.

"We think both sides would gain by having more interaction," Rodman said. "We would learn more about them, and perhaps they would learn more about us."

China's military modernization is a concern to the United States, only because China has been secretive about the program and its intentions, Rodman said. The United States was not invited to observe or participate in several military and police exercises, and the Chinese defense budget leaves out many things, he said. As a result, the U.S. is caught by surprise by the sudden appearance of fully-developed new systems, he said.

Rodman noted the United States has been very open about its assumptions, planning, and purposes for procurement in the Quadrennial Defense Review.

"And so we say to them, 'Look, you have a right to have whatever military establishment you like. You're a sovereign country. But the rest of the world is going to react, first of all, to your growing power, and all the more so if there's a lack of transparency about the purpose of it,' and so forth," he said.

DoD officials believe that China will seek technology for its modernization in Europe, Rodman said. Because of this, the United States has started a strategic dialogue with Europe about Asia policy - namely, finding out if leaders have the same strategic perception of China, he said.

To prepare against poossible future threats from China, DoD leaders are collaborating with allies, Rodman said. Over the last several years, U.S. relations with other countries in the region have improved because those countries have had the same reaction to China's rise, he said. The United States now has stronger strategic relationships with Japan, India, Vietnam, Australia, Singapore and Mongolia, he said.

Hedging against future threats is not a new phenomenon in U.S. defense policy, James Thomas, deputy assistant secretary of defense for resources and plans, said at the hearing. As with China, the U.S. always has sought a balanced approach, Thomas said, to foster cooperation where possible but to be prepared for hostile activity.

As the United States strengthens alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region, DoD also is making some changes to prepare for the challenges of the 21st century, Thomas said. DoD is looking at more routine deployments of bomber elements to Guam, he said, and is shifting to six carrier battle groups and 60 percent of the attack submarine fleet in the Pacific, he said.

While moving ahead in the U.S.-China relationship, one of the most important things is to have clear, open communication and to be firm and honest, Rodman said.

"We don't believe any outcome is fore-ordained, certainly not a negative outcome," he said. "We hope by our dialogue with China, we hope by prudent policies of our own and in collaboration with allies, we hope to be able to shape the future and to influence China's evolution in a constructive way."

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Peter Rodman
James Thomas

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U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission

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