Sat, Aug 27, 2005 - Page 8 News List

China's navy prompts US concern

By Richard Halloran

Hardly had Admiral Gary Roughead taken the helm as the new commander of the US Pacific Fleet than the Chinese and Russian armed forces gave him something to think about.

Those two forces in the Western Pacific have just completed eight days of joint maneuvers centered on the Shandong Peninsula, across the Yellow Sea from the Korean Peninsula. The drills were conducted with 10,000 military people on land, at sea and in the air, about 8,500 of them Chinese.

That's not large as these things go, but it was the first such exercise done together since the breakup of the Soviet Union 15 years ago. It marked another step in a gradual Sino-Russian reconciliation after decades of rivalry during the days of the Soviet Union.

The war games evidently had three purposes: serve notice on the US that it has military competitors in the Western Pacific; show the Taiwanese once again that China would use force if that nation formally declared independence; and market more weapons to a China that has already bought Russian warships and aircraft.

Roughead suggested that he was more interested in the Chinese than the Russian navy, much of which has been stranded by a lack of funds.

"Clearly, the Chinese are developing a very capable modern military, especially the navy," he said in an interview at his Pearl Harbor headquarters. "The question is: What do they see as the intended use of that navy?"

"If it is to ensure the free flow of commerce, that would not be surprising," he said, nodding toward the sea lanes in the South China and East China Seas through which pass the oil and raw materials that feed China's billowing economy, not to mention its soaring exports.

The admiral added, however: "What if the intent is not purely to defend the sea lanes?"

Roughead said he had been keenly interested in learning what ships and aircraft the Chinese and Russians had deployed during the war games, how they operated together and how they integrated their commands and communications.

His Pacific Fleet was not invited to send observers to the maneuvers nor would he or any other officer discuss ways in which intelligence was being gathered. It does not take a rocket scientist, however, to figure out that a couple of US submarines, several reconnaissance aircraft and surveillance satellites have been watching and listening closely.

Roughead, who took command of the Pacific Fleet's 200 warships, 1,400 aircraft and 190,000 sailors and marines on July 8, said he would not drastically change course from that set by his predecessor, Admiral Walter Doran.

"When you come on watch," Roughead said, "normally you don't trim the sails right away."

Much of his attention will be directed to continuing the transformation of the US' armed forces ordered by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In the Pacific and Asia, that is adding to navy responsibilities as the US plans to depend on seapower and airpower rather than ground forces in most contingencies.

In the dispute over Taiwan, for instance, the US would rely on ships and airplanes to help defend Taiwan if China sought to enforce its claim to sovereignty with an assault and if President George W. Bush decided it would be in the US' interest to resist.

Roughead said he planned to invite more Asian and Pacific navies to take part in multilateral exercises, in contrast to bilateral drills. To increase their ability to operate together, he would like to persuade allied navies to codify their procedures.

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