Sat, Oct 29, 2005 - Page 8 News List

What's a salute in two directions?

By Richard Halloran

A picture of US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan (曹剛川), taken as they reviewed troops in Beijing earlier this month, is a subtle image of the relations between the two countries these days.

Rumsfeld and Cao were standing at attention and saluting, Rumsfeld with hand over heart and Cao with hand to the visor of his cap, as a band played their national anthems to welcome Rumsfeld to China in his first visit since taking office in 2001.

They were standing at a 90o angle to one another, Cao facing forward and Rumsfeld to the right. They were not back-to-back, as they might have been if they were adversaries, nor were they side-by-side as they would have been as allies. Rather, they were canted away from each other.

Until now, the Bush administration, preoccupied with the campaign against terror, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestine conflict, has neglected US relations with China, the rising power of Asia and a potential future adversary.

That began to change last June when Rumsfeld took part in the Shangri-La gathering of civilian and military defense leaders in Singapore. That was followed by a visit to China last month by Admiral William Fallon, who leads the US Pacific Command from his headquarters in Hawaii, and by Rumsfeld this month. US President George W. Bush will travel to China in the middle of next month.

In substance, the US leaders have repeatedly expressed skepticism over China's expanding military power. They have, however, toned down the rhetoric compared with the aggressive, even belligerent, tenor of the administration's early days in office. Today, the administration seems to have inserted the proverbial mailed fist into a velvet glove.

In his address to the Shangri-La conference, Rumsfeld raised China's military spending, its expanding missile force and its ability to project military power.

"Since no nation threatens China," Rumsfeld said, "one must wonder, why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases? Why these continuing robust deployments?"

Fallon, during his trip to China, carried that a bit further, according to US officers. He sought to deter China's potential military threat by quietly reminding its leaders that the US had the capability and resolve to help defend its interests in Asia, including the defense of Taiwan.

At the same time, Fallon balanced that stance by proposing new military exchanges with China, inviting Chinese officers to observe US military exercises and proposing that US officers make reciprocal visits to China.

During his visit to China this month, Rumsfeld evidently sought to influence rising young leaders of China, addressing the Central Party School where party officials are trained and the Academy of Military Science, which educates young officers in the People's Liberation Army.

"As I look at all of you," he told the students at the school, "it occurs to me that in many ways China's future depends on decisions you will make as your country's next generation of leaders."

He asked them to consider: "What kind of future do you envision? What role will you have in helping the Chinese people achieve the political and economic benefits to which they aspire?"

"What future will you help bring for China as a constructive partner in the international system?" he continued. "When the China of tomorrow comes, what will you tell your children and your great grandchildren of the role you played during your lives in helping to build it?"

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