China's secretive military
Secretary Rumsfeld arrives Tuesday on his first official visit to Beijing. He will press for more military transparency.
As the war in Iraq began, the Pentagon embedded a Chinese reporter for five days on the USS Kitty Hawk. Some officers thought it odd to invite a reporter from a state that many see as the greatest long-term military threat to the US. But the Pentagon felt a close look by China at an aircraft carrier was a good deterrent.Skip to next paragraph
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Chinese PLA officers have ridden US fighter jets, boarded nuclear submarines, sat in on classes at West Point, and visited the strategic command at Cheyenne Mountain. But US military visits to China have been mostly a matter of seeing parades or an empty base.
As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrives here Tuesday for his first official visit to China, some analysts hope the two sides will become more "transparent and reciprocal."
Chinese leaders approved an unprecedented visit for Secretary Rumsfeld to China's missile-command center at the Second Artillery Corps headquarters outside Beijing, probably the most sensitive base of operations a US military leader has visited in recent times. The invitation is a shift from a few weeks ago, when Adm. William Fallon, head of US Pacific forces, was denied access to naval ports. Even so, Rumsfeld will not be allowed to visit the Western Hills national military command center.
Mr. Rumsfeld's trip here, much sought by Beijing, in fact depended on Chinese willingness to offer significant access, US officials say. For the Pentagon, China's military progress has been so rapid, and its political developments and regional intentions so unclear, that security in the Pacific - and avoidance of misunderstandings - depend on greater cooperation, including military visits, hotlines, and what Rumsfeld calls "straightforward" talk about new weapons systems and strategy.
"The US is no longer willing to trade high-tech military briefings ... for a dog and pony show," says one US official. "I think the Chinese now acknowledge that message."
China's military is at a transitional moment, according to a July Defense Department report. China has developed the third- or fourth-largest military in the world. Monday, its military-based space program landed two men from earth orbit. China has a strategic nuclear force and its navy is moving into the open seas. In the past two years, China has unveiled a new attack submarine and a new light battleship - a total surprise for US intelligence.
Many US strategists, including Admiral Fallon, argue that a military clash with China is not inevitable, despite the fact that the two forces are eyeing each other with greater wariness. But "transparency" has grown in importance for US generals and admirals, as well as pilots and submarine commanders, because the margin for mistakes in a "Taiwan scenario" - the hottest flashpoint - is getting smaller. China's main military modernization is designed to fight an offensive battle to capture Taiwan.
Without transparency, some military operations chiefs say, it is harder to know when one side or the other is bluffing, especially amid tensions. "Western forces have a hard time understanding Asian forces, how they think and act," says Michael Boera, the wing commander of the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing in Guam. "It is a different culture, and we need to guard against misunderstandings that we aren't ready for."