Thu, Feb 24, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Beijing offers Pentagon a hotline

RED TELEPHONE?A US defense official said that China has started a `special dialogue' with the US that proposed direct telephonic contact between the Pentagon and Beijing

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

China has for the first time indicated it is willing to discuss the establishment of a telephone hotline between the Pentagon and the Chinese Foreign Ministry, a senior US defense official has revealed.

While such a line would aim mainly at dealing with a possible repetition of the April, 2001 EP-3 incident in which a US reconnaissance plane was forced down on Hainan Island, the link could also help diffuse tensions in case of Chinese military action against Taiwan.

The Chinese made their offer during a two-day meeting in late January in Beijing between Deputy Assistant of Defense for East Asia, Richard Lawless and Chinese Defense Ministry officials, which was billed as the first "special policy dialogue" between the two powers.

During the meeting, the Chin-ese officials said "they would be prepared to positively consider this," the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told a small group of reporters in Washington. However, he added, they were "some distance from making a decision."

At previous meetings when the US raised the issue, the answer was always, "no, with almost no chance" of their okay, the US official said.

This time, it has "perhaps moved to no, for the moment," the official said.

The Chinese told the Pentagon delegation that the issue was very important and that Beijing needed to consult internally before reaching a decision.

The US official pointed out that Washington now has similar military-to-military hotlines with 60 countries, including every other member of the UN Security Council.

While the subject of Taiwan came up at the meeting, it did not occupy much time and was "fairly straightforward," the official said.

"There were no new positions explained by either side," he said.

However, the US did repeat Washington's deep concern over the continued Chinese military buildup across the Strait, which, the US team noted, has not abated.

The Chinese used an expression made by former President Jiang Zemin (江澤民) before he retired to describe the Taiwan situation, about a tree wanting to stand still but the wind refusing to stop blowing.

"It seemed to us that there were two winds blowing," the US official said.

"The tree was being whipsawed between two winds. Therefore, we wanted to make sure that China understands that we consider the military modernization program, and particularly the very, very dynamic buildup of military capability across the Strait vis-a-vis Taiwan as a destabilizing factor and a factor of concern to us," he said.

"And we have not seen any abatement, any reduction in the buildup. And because of that we are extremely concerned," the US official said.

The Chinese did make a presentation of the new Defense White Paper Beijing issued in December, in which the Chinese declared that the main aim of the military buildup was to crush an attempt by Taiwan at independence.

Two issues in the document grabbed Washington' attention and appeared to be "noticeable departures" from Beijing's previous White Paper, issued in December 2002, the anonymous official said.

First, the explicit identification of the US, "and by coincidence Japan," as "complicating factors" in China's East Asian security environment.

Second, the White Paper's description of the Taiwan situation as "grim."

The Lawless team asked the Chinese why the changes had been made but the they "did not respond directly," the US official said.

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