Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interested Observers: Chinese Military Delegation Visits Guam To Watch U.S. Naval Exercise



Interested Observers
Chinese Military Delegation Visits Guam To Watch U.S. Naval Exercise


For the first time, a Chinese military delegation has been allowed to observe an exercise run by the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM).

Dubbed Valiant Shield 2006, the exercise was conducted June 19-23 off Guam. It involved three aircraft carriers, 30 other warships, 280 warplanes and 22,000 service members.

Beijing was invited to send a delegation by PACOM commander Adm. William Fallon, who visited the country in May. China sent six People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force, among them Rear Adm. Zhang Leiyu, plus four foreign-affairs officials.

They joined other foreign observers, including officials from Australia, India, Japan, Russia, Singapore and South Korea, in visiting U.S. Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base. They observed demonstrations by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit Five, Mobile Security Squadron Seven and the Combat Readiness Group.

The Chinese also toured the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan.

“They exchanged views with their U.S. peers on weaponry, equipment, tactics, command and management,” the newspaper Shanghai Daily reported on June 19.

PACOM officials said the visit would help U.S.-China relations.

“Improving relationships between U.S. and Chinese military personnel comes at no one’s expense,” said Cmdr. Mike Brown, an exercise spokesman. “Transparency is important to each of our military’s abilities to improve understanding and, more importantly, to prevent misunderstandings between our two nations. All nations in the Asia-Pacific region benefit from a stable, peaceful Asia.”

Rebuilding a Relationship

At a May 15 press conference, Fallon described his decision to invite the Chinese.

“There are extensive ongoing ties in virtually every area,” Fallon said in a PACOM statement, “but the one noticeable drag, if you would, or lagging area, is the military-to-military, and that’s the result of the reaction to the events in 1989 in Beijing and also in reaction to the collision between the two aircraft in 2001. Last year, we set about trying to rebuild that relationship and expand those ties.”

In 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II surveillance aircraft collided with a Chinese F-8 fighter in international airspace over the South China Sea. The EP-3 made an emergency landing at Hainan Island, but the Chinese fighter pilot was killed. Chinese authorities held the aircrew of 24 for 11 days until a settlement was reached.

Transparency and openness appear to be Fallon’s key objectives with China — “that when we do things, we open it up for everyone to see, to demonstrate our intention to do things in a transparent manner,” he said.

The move is part of a confidence-building effort, said one longtime China military watcher.

“If we — in this case, the two militaries — get together, work together, we can create rapport and trust. Confrontations are less likely to break out,” said June Teufel Dreyer of the University of Miami, Fla. “Also, we worry that the PLA doesn’t realize how strong we are. Once they observe our whiz-bang weapons in action, they won’t be tempted to take us on.”

But another observer said that trying to scare the Chinese would backfire.

“It doesn’t work that way. They decide they want to be even bigger than we are, and immediately get to work to make it happen,” the observer said.

Dreyer cautions that U.S. officials should not get their hopes up for improved Sino-U.S. military relations.

“I suppose the invitation could also be considered an index of the Chinese willingness to become more friendly with the U.S. Certain U.S. officials have been wanting better mil-mil relations for years. If the PLA accepts our invitation, we can make further overtures. If not — well, it was just lunch, so to speak.”