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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

China's Top General Visits The Pentagon

Washington (AFP): China's top military official met with US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Tuesday to discuss closer military relations in the highest level visit of its kind in more than five years, officials said.

Rumsfeld welcomed General Guo Boxiong with military honors at the Pentagon where they discussed North Korea and bilateral military issues in a private meeting and at a working lunch.

Boxiong, vice chairman of the central military commission of the Peoples Republic of China, also was scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, officials said.

A senior US defense official said the visit was symbolically important because it showed that both countries were interested in improving often strained military relations.

US-Chinese military relations "are very stable, very steady and they are expanding and they have high political impetus from both sides," said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

"As I say, this is the top military man in China. He's never been here before. I don't think any of his predecessors have been here," he said.

The official said the two sides reached no formal agreements but Guo indicated China's willingness to take part in a joint search and rescue exercise later this year.

The US side also hopes to deepen discussion about China's strategic nuclear doctrine with a visit this year by the commander of China's nuclear forces to the US Strategic Command in Omaha, Nebraska.

Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs, opened the dialogue during a visit to China in June in which he gave Chinese military leaders a classified briefing on changes in US nuclear doctrine, the official said.

An annual Pentagon report on Chinese military power earlier this year highlighted US concerns about the pace and scope of the modernization of China's strategic forces.

The report also said internal debate over China's policy of "no first use" of nuclear appeared to be broader than previously known, citing comments by a Chinese general who suggested the possible pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons against the United States in a conflict.

The defense official said Chinese military leaders assured the US side as recently as Rodman's visit last month that China still adheres to a policy of "no first use" of nuclear weapons and insist that there is no internal debate.

"That's why this exchange of visits of the nuclear people is important. Because we want to have this channel, we want to draw them out and tell us more about what their strategic doctrine is," the official said.

Rumsfeld and Guo also exchanged information on North Korea's recent Taepodong 2 missile launch, according to the official.

"They were saying a lot of their information came from us about what is going on," the official said.

Guo also provided some archival information on the case of a US Navy aviator, Lieutenant Junior Grade James Deane, a friend of Rumsfeld whose aircraft went down off China in 1956, the official said.

Military relations between the United States and China have been slow to mend since the April 1, 2001 collision of a US navy surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter over the South China Sea.

Visits to Beijing by Rumsfeld in October 2005 and by President George W. Bush in April, as well as efforts by the US Pacific Command to actively engage their Chinese counterparts, have helped produce a thaw.

Guo on Monday stopped in San Diego, California, where he toured the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

He was scheduled to address students and faculty at the National Defense University in Washington on Wednesday.

His itinerary ends Thursday with a visit to the US Military Academy at West Point in New York.
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