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China Pursues U.S. Military Ties More Slowly Than Hoped, Official Says

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 9, 2007 – China is following up on its stated interest in closer military ties with the United States but not as quickly or completely as initially hoped, an outgoing senior defense official said.

“They have been more willing to engage, but it is engagement by millimeters and increments,” Richard Lawless told reporters July 6 during a media roundtable. He retired June 30 from his position as deputy under secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs.

Of particular concern, he said, is China’s failure to accept U.S. offers to engage in nuclear policy talks.

“The offer has been on the table for well over a year and a half for them to engage in a discussion about their strategic nuclear forces,” he said. “This is a big deal. And it is a particularly big deal when you see the pace of deployment and the pace of development and where we are going to be in just three or four years.”

Despite U.S. urging to discuss these developments now, before China deploys its new systems, “to date, that interest on our part has met with pretty much silence,” Lawless said.

China’s unwillingness to discuss its intentions -- about its nuclear program or its military expansion overall -- leaves the United States and its allies in the region “with no choice but to assume the worst,” he said.

“China is very determined to build up its military capacity. It is demonstrating that,” he said. “When you don’t know why they are doing it, it is pretty damn threatening.”

Lawless called dialog, visits and other interactions important steps toward building understanding between the United States and China.

Progress toward increasing military-to-military engagements between the two countries is “overall, not bad,” and educational exchanges are on the rise, he said. But even when these occur, China doesn’t reciprocate with the same level of openness the United States offers, Lawless said.

He noted that the United States pulled out all stops for a top Chinese naval officer who visited, providing him “unprecedented access to everything that he asked for.” Yet when arrangements were being made for Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chief of naval operations, to visit China, “nowhere near that same level of reciprocity was being discussed or offered,” he said.

“So I guess the key word here is ‘disappointment,’” Lawless said. “What we expect the Chinese to do is give us the same level of access that we give them here in the United States. … And if that cannot be reciprocated, then we have a very serious disconnect.”

Visits aren’t the end-all in a bilateral military relationship, Lawless conceded. “But the visits are an important meter stick or indicator of what this relationship is and what it is not, and it also shows us where we need to go with the relationship,” he said. “And we have a long way to go to get where we want to be.”

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