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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fallon's mission: restore military ties with China

By Christopher Bodeen
Associated Press

U.S. Adm. William Fallon

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BEIJING The Hawai'i-based commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific arrived in Beijing yesterday for a visit aimed at rebuilding contacts between the two countries' armed forces.

U.S. Adm. William Fallon, whose headquarters is at Camp Smith on O'ahu, was to meet with top Chinese defense and Foreign Ministry officials today before touring military installations elsewhere in the country.

Since taking his position last year, Fallon has repeatedly called for a full restoration of contacts between the U.S. and Chinese militaries. Those were broken off by Washington in 2001 after China held the crew of a U.S. Navy spy plane for 11 days after it collided in midair with a Chinese fighter jet.

In the years since, China and the U.S. have exchanged ceremonial port calls and visits by senior defense officials, but there has been virtually no engagement between their militaries.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed Fallon's arrival yesterday afternoon but said he would have no public events before today.

Washington has taken tentative steps toward restoring military ties in recent months. The sides reportedly pledged to work toward student and faculty exchanges between their military academies and expanded port visits during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to China last year, his first since taking office in 2001.

In an interview last month, Fallon said he hoped to further those efforts and eventually persuade the People's Liberation Army to "participate in some fashion" in U.S. joint exercises with Pacific allies such as Australia, Japan and Singapore.

"It's high time we re-engage with the Chinese military," Fallon said in the interview with the Navy League of the United States, a civilian support group. "I want to get them to engage because the more they engage, the more likely they are to see that there are a lot of things we ought to be doing together."

Analysts say military ties with China have been a low priority for the U.S. administration that is overwhelmingly absorbed with battling international terrorism and the Iraqi insurgency.

Rumsfeld has also questioned China's repeated annual double-digit increases in its defense budget, saying last year that China's missile buildup opposite Taiwan undermined its stated wish to unite peacefully with the island.

China called Rumsfeld's statements unfounded.

U.S. military analysts say deep mistrust and clashing political cultures will continue to hinder engagement between the two militaries.

"Progress on this front will be slow and difficult because China has a long tradition of dealing from a position of weakness and therefore wanting to conceal both strengths and weaknesses," said Denny Roy, an expert on the Chinese military at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu.