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Gates Seeks to Bolster Defense Relationships in Asia

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will travel to China, Korea and Japan over the next six days in an effort to bolster U.S. defense relationships with those countries.

Japan and the Republic of Korea are treaty allies of the United States, but China – an emerging world power – requires different handling, a senior defense official said yesterday, speaking on background.

“We’ve made a lot of progress (with China) over the past several years, and we want to do that,” the official said. At the same time, Gates will communicate to Chinese leaders several areas of concern the United States has with the country.

Those areas are broadly listed as openness, transparency and understanding, the official said. The strategic intentions behind their defense policy, the military capabilities they are developing, the way they plan and think about military matters are “opaque,” he said.

The Chinese defense budget jumped almost 18 percent in the most recent year to approximately $44 billion. This is what Chinese leaders have chosen to release to the public. The number may be much higher, said U.S. defense officials.

Critics in the United States see this as a sign of an aggressive China seeking hegemony first in Asia and then the world.

The lack of clarity has a potential to be destabilizing for East Asia and the rest of the world. China has not communicated the scope, the purpose or the scale of their military build up.

“It’s not that we’re looking at every tiny detail of every weapon system that they buy, but it’s what is the role they plan to play in the world; how do they plan to play it; and especially what does their military build-up mean to us and the rest of the region,” the official said.

There are certain areas in every country’s military that are legitimately secret. “We’re not asking for their secrets, but we’re asking for information that will make us both more secure and the region more secure,” the official said.

The Chinese anti-satellite test in January is a case in point. The test came out of the blue to U.S. and world leaders, he said.

“We’re still looking for the kind of response from the Chinese that really helps us understand why they did it, what’s the purpose to the capabilities they are developing and what their next steps are going to do,” he said. “It’s also unclear if the Chinese understand the kinds and levels of concern that we and other space-faring countries have (with the anti-satellite test).”

Gates will be the most senior U.S. official to meet with Chinese leaders since the 17th Communist Party Congress – “their version of an election” – was held in October, and the meetings will give him a change to gauge China’s new leaders, the official said.

Gates would like to see a final agreement on the Defense Telephone Link between the Pentagon and counterparts in Beijing. This is a dedicated hot line that would allow U.S. and Chinese could use in the event of crises. The link is important both substantively and symbolically, the official said.

The American defense secretary is prepared to discuss a full range of important issues from Iran’s nuclear program to steps in dismantling North Korea’s reactors to concerns about cyber-security, the official said.

The Chinese will talk to Gates about Taiwan, the official said. Publicly, the Chinese are concerned about the up-coming referendum in Taiwan – which the United States also opposes. The U.S. position on Taiwan and reunification with China has not changed. U.S. actions in regard to Taiwan are governed by the One China Policy based on the Three Communiqués between the United States and China, the Taiwan Relations Act and a sincere desire to see the Taiwan issue resolved in a peaceful manner.

In Korea, Gates will discuss progress on the peninsula, and continued Korean support for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The South Korean military has engineers and other troops in and around Irbil, Iraq. Coalition officials in Iraq said that the Koreans have added greatly to the security of the region.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban kidnapping of Korean Christians over the summer complicates the picture. The official said that the military alliance between Korea and the United States has gotten much stronger, and “the meeting should serve to acknowledge and strengthen the already excellent military relationships.”

In Japan, Gates will discuss U.S.-Japan Defense Treaty realignment and host-nation support to U.S. troops based in the nation. He is also prepared to discuss Japanese support to the war on terror. The Japanese ended their most visible support by recalling oil tankers that refueled coalition vessels engaged in operations in the Indian Ocean.

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