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Top US Commander Plays Down China Threat

General Peter Pace, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
by Robert J. Saiget
Beijing (AFP) March 23, 2007
The US military's top commander said here Friday that he did not believe China's armed forces were a threat and played down the prospects for hostilities in the Taiwan strait.

Following complaints from Washington over China's rising military budget and a satellite-killing test, General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his four-day visit was aimed at boosting US-Sino military ties.

"Clearly, both the United States and China have enormous military capacity, but equally clearly neither country has the intent to go to war with the other. So absent of intent, I don't find threat," Pace said.

"We should not focus on how to fight each other but how to prevent military action. That is what my government is focused on, and that is what my Chinese counterparts here have said their government is focused on."

Pace, who arrived Thursday, said he had discussed the sensitive topic of Taiwan with the Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Guo Boxiong, Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan and Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

"It is not surprising that in each of the meetings, the issue of Taiwan came up. It is clearly a fundamental issue with China," he said.

Pace said he had repeated President George W. Bush's position that the US leader "would not support Taiwan independence" and that Washington wanted the issue to be handled peacefully.

Taiwan has been one of the biggest obstacles to better Sino-US ties, with the United States concerned that China may carry out its threat to retake the island by force if Taipei should move towards independence.

Pace's visit follows a US announcement last month that it planned to provide more than 400 missiles to Taiwan, apparently to counter China's growing military force aimed at the island territory.

China protested the planned sale.

And the trip comes after the United States repeatedly expressed concerns over China's successful knocking out of one of its ageing satellites with a ballistic missile in January.

The United States and the former Soviet Union had already conducted such tests, but China's effort resulted in international concerns over a global race to weaponise space.

Senior US officials have spoken critically of China's military budget, expressing concerns that the Chinese are under-reporting its size and that it is expanding too quickly.

China announced this month a 17.8-percent rise in military spending for this year to 45 billion dollars.

US Vice President Dick Cheney said last month that China's military build-up and the satellite-killing weapon were "not consistent with China's stated goal of a 'peaceful rise'."

Pace said he raised the issue of the satellite test in his meetings with the Chinese, but avoided in his comments to the press any of the harsher rhetoric used by Cheney and others.

"I used the example of the anti-satellite test as how sometimes the international community can be confused, because it was a surprise that China did that and it wasn't clear what their intent was," Pace said of his meetings.

His Chinese counterparts did not explain why they had decided to carry out such a test, nor what their intent was, he said.

"One of the reasons we have to work harder between the two militaries is to make sure, as best we can, we tell each other what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we're doing it," Pace said.

"The biggest fear I have of the future is miscalculation and misunderstanding based on disinformation."

Pace said the two sides discussed setting up a hotline between the two militaries, boosting exchanges through joint military exercises and setting up an exchange programme between military academies.

earlier related report
US engineer faces trial for smuggling military secrets to China
Los Angeles (AFP) March 24 - A Chinese-born engineer will go on trial in a California court on Tuesday charged with smuggling sensitive technology about US Navy submarines to China.

Chi Mak, 66, an engineer working for a US company with several Navy contracts, is accused of trying to export intelligence about silent submarines in October 2005 in a plot that involved four members of his family.

Mak, who is also charged with acting as an agent of China in the United States and making false statements, was arrested after agents swooped on two relatives at Los Angeles Airport as they prepared to board a flight to Hong Kong.

According to Justice Department documents, the duo were caught with a disk containing sensitive encrypted data on US submarines hidden in a English-language CD course.

Mak's trial opens in Santa Ana on Tuesday with jury selection while his relatives, including a brother, are expected to stand trial in May.

Mak has not been formally charged with espionage because the information on the disk has not officially been deemed classified.

Instead prosecutors say the data relates to weapons-related technology that requires an appropriate export license, which Mak never sought.

Mak, a US citizen who was born in Guangzhou, China, has denied the charges. Defense lawyer Ronald Kaye has described his client as having an "unblemished" character.

Kaye has also said all the data referred to in the case was made available at a public conference, and so cannot be described as secret.

The investigation into Mak began in early 2004, when federal agents began audio and video surveillance of the engineer and his family.

Although the case is not an espionage trial, prosecution documents give an insight into a shadowy world of intrigue, revealing Chinese intelligence's use of code names such as Red Flower, Winter Chrysanthemum and Autumn Orchid.

After raiding Mak's home, prosecutors say they also discovered a 'wish-list' of US military technology, including information on missile defense and torpedo systems.

The trial comes amid increasing concern in the United States about the activities of Chinese intelligence agencies.

A senior official said in remarks published earlier this month that Chinese agents were the most active in the world and were aggressively pursuing advanced technology.

"The technology bleed to China, among others, is a very serious problem," Joel Brenner, the new head of the Office of National Counterintelligence Executive, told The Washington Times.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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