Potempkin village? --MW China Shows Cohen Secret Air Defense Center By Charles Aldinger BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen got an unprecedented tour of a secret Chinese air defense center on Monday, underscoring new openness and warmth after decades of mutual distrust. Cohen also signed a naval safety agreement designed to avoid accidents and clashes by U.S. and Chinese warships at sea. And, he praised a renewed Chinese pledge that China would halt sales of C-801 and C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran, weapons which Washington fears might be used in a possible attempt to close Gulf shipping. Cohen and 14 senior U.S. officials became the first American officials ever taken to the seven-story Air Defense Command Center in Beijing. The facility tracks thousands of aircraft in the region daily and can be used to coordinate defense by a number of regional centers against missile or air attack, Chinese officials told the visitors. "It was an interesting mixture of old and new" technology, said one U.S. official, who asked not to be identified. "They (the Chinese) were fairly comfortable with exploring issues (questions from Cohen and others) in an open manner," he told reporters. While the facility had some computers and other up-to-date equipment, "I could smell vacuum" tubes, the official said, referring to technology used years ago to power computers. The center appeared to be all above ground and Cohen was admitted through a lightly-guarded gate. Among the visiting party were Admiral Joseph Prueher, who commands America's Asia-Pacific forces, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth, U.S. officials described this first visit by foreigners to the sensitive facility as a breakthrough in building trust with a wary Chinese military. The United States and other Western nations have been pressing hard for greater transparency by Beijing on military budgets, planning and defense doctrines. "This is certainly a concrete sign that the PLA (People's Liberation Army) wants more cooperation and is following through on the summit," said one U.S. officer, referring to last October's Washington meeting between Presidents Jiang Zemin and Bill Clinton. Before holding talks, Cohen and Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian signed the Military Maritime Consultation Agreement, one of the outcomes of the summit. The pact provides for annual meetings of senior military officials of the two countries to work out maritime procedures. "The agreement demonstrates the maturing relationship between our militaries," Cohen said. "As our naval and air forces have more contact, the agreement will increase understanding and reduce the chances of miscalculation," he said. Chi said the agreement "serves the fundamental interests of our two peoples and also contributes to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the world at large." The need for so-called "rules-of-the-road" naval arrangements was driven home by an encounter between the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and a Chinese submarine in international waters in 1996, analysts said. In that year, the two navies came eyeball-to-eyeball when the United States sent two aircraft carriers to waters near Taiwan where China was conducting military maneuvers. In a speech to PLA officers at the Academy of Military Sciences, Cohen revealed that Chi had promised again to halt sales of C-801 and C-802 cruise missiles to Iran. The pledge was made at the Washington summit, but Cohen said on his arrival in Beijing on Saturday for his three-day visit that he would follow up on the promise. "I must say I was very pleased to have such assurances reaffirmed by General Chi today," Cohen said. He noted that any disruption of the flow of oil from the Gulf would damage China's economy. "And should that disruption occur through the use of weapons technology provided by China it clearly would also have a damaging effect on China's relations with many countries around the world, including the United States," he said. Cohen told the PLA officers the U.S. military was anxious to continue improving relations with the armed forces of the world's most powerful Communist nation. "Today, China is an Asian power and rightfully so. The United States does not fear this, nor do we view China as an adversary," Cohen said. "Rather, the U.S. seeks to encourage China to step forward as a responsible and cooperative great nation, a nation that preserves its unique identity but is more open on security matters and more respectful of the rule of law." Cohen also reiterated Washington's strong bilateral defense relationships with Japan and South Korea and its ties with other Asian nations did not threaten China, and in fact provided regional stability and prosperity. He urged China to form its own bilateral ties with Japan, Korea and other neighbors.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Apr 13 2001 - 13:01:19 PDT