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Senator Baucus to be named US envoy to China: Senate source
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Dec 19, 2013


China was 'irresponsible' in stand-off at sea: US
Washington (AFP) Dec 19, 2013 - China acted in an "irresponsible" way in a stand-off with a US naval ship this month in the South China Sea, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday.

US officials have said that the USS Cowpens, a guided missile cruiser, had to take evasive action to avoid a collision with a Chinese vessel that had come dangerously close in the December 5 incident.

"That action by the Chinese, cutting in front ...100 yards out in front of the Cowpens, was not a responsible action," Hagel told a news conference.

"It was unhelpful, it was irresponsible."

Hagel said the maritime confrontation, the first reported for several years, pointed to the need for clear protocols between the two militaries to avoid a potential clash in the Pacific.

"That's the kind of thing that's very incendiary, that could be a trigger or a spark that could set off some eventual miscalculation," he said.

The two sides needed to work "to have a mechanism to be able to defuse some of these issues as they occur," Hagel said.

"We're working on it," he added.

His comments were the first public reaction by a top official at the Pentagon since the incident two weeks ago.

The near-collision underlined rising tensions after Beijing last month declared an expanded air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, which Washington and its Asian allies have refused to recognize.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the same press conference that American and Chinese military officers have been meeting to draft rules for when the two militaries encounter each other at sea, in the air or in cyberspace.

He said "those working groups have actually been meeting and making some progress."

China has played down the incident, saying its naval forces followed proper procedures

"During the encounter, the Chinese naval vessel strictly followed protocol and handled (the incident) appropriately," said a recent short statement from the Chinese defense ministry.

The statement also said the two defense departments "communicated effectively" during the incident.

Chinese state media, however, had said the US ship posed a "threat."

According to US military officers, the Chinese vessel involved was an amphibious dock ship, part of a flotilla accompanying Beijing's new Liaoning aircraft carrier.

The confrontation occurred in the strategic South China Sea, where Beijing has asserted control over territory claimed by other countries in the region.

The US military has repeatedly vowed to keep operating in international waters and airspace, and has increased its presence in Southeast Asia over the past year as a counter-balance to Beijing's more assertive regional stance.

President Barack Obama will tap outgoing Senator Max Baucus to be the next US ambassador to China, a Senate aide said Wednesday.

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus helped craft Obama's landmark health-care law, and his lengthy experience on the committee makes him well versed in trade issues, an all-important portfolio for dealing with the United States' second-largest trading partner.

The Montana Democrat's staff did not respond to a request to confirm the move. But a congressional source said fellow Senator Orrin Hatch told reporters that he was aware of the White House plan.

Hatch is the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee and works closely with Baucus on a wide range of issues.

The White House declined to comment on the appointment, and it remained unclear when the nomination would be announced.

Baucus, like all ambassadorial nominees, would need to be confirmed by the Senate.

The 72-year-old was first elected to the Senate in 1978. He announced in April that he would not seek re-election in 2014.

Baucus would replace Ambassador Gary Locke, a former secretary of commerce in the Obama administration, who has served in the sensitive Beijing post since 2011.

The Washington Post reported that Baucus will be succeeded by Montana's Lieutenant Governor John Walsh, also a Democrat, and that Walsh will run in November for a full, six-year Senate term.

In an opinion piece, the Post cited three reasons why the White House is trying to send Baucus to China.

One is that Baucus has become a critic of how Obama's health care reform has been implemented, and sending him to Beijing would get him out of the way.

It said that a month after the launch of HealthCare.gov the senator compared the federal health care marketplace where people are supposed to buy coverage to Humpty Dumpty, questioning whether the White House could fixed the very flawed online enrollment system.

Back in April Baucus warned the program would be a "train wreck" if major reforms and fixes to it weren't made.

What is more, Baucus has sought for months to oversee the administration's health care efforts and if he is gone it is less likely that the Senate Finance Committee can do this aggressively, the Post reckoned.

Secondly, Baucus has a lot of experience on China issues. In the 1990s he led the effort to bring China into the World Trade Organization, has visited China eight times and has also hosted Chinese trade delegations in Washington and Montana.

Finally, the Post said, Baucus's departure boosts the Democrats' chances of holding on to his seat in the mid-term legislative elections of next year.

Asked about Baucus' probable appointment, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular briefing: "At present China-US relations have maintained steady growth. The two sides are working together to establish a new model of major country relations between the two countries.

"No matter who assumes the position of US ambassador to China we all hope that he or she can play a positive role in promoting China-US exchanges, mutual trust and cooperation."

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China warship 'followed protocol' in stand-off: officials
Beijing (AFP) Dec 18, 2013
A Chinese warship "followed protocol" during an "encounter" with a US naval vessel, the defence ministry said Wednesday in Beijing's first official confirmation of what the US military described as a near-collision. The USS Cowpens, a guided missile cruiser, was forced to manoeuvre to avoid a collision with the Chinese ship that had crossed directly in front of it and halted, according to na ... read more


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