In a move that could impact Taiwan, the former head of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy Keating, has strongly advocated the acceptance of Chinese students at US military academies.
At this point, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cadets cannot attend US military academies, while Taiwanese cadets can do so. In the past, the US Congress has looked at how a change in policy might affect attendees from Taiwan’s military and decided to leave restrictions against Chinese cadets in place.
Keating argued for finding a way for both Taiwanese and Chinese cadets to attend US military academies.
At the third annual China Defense and Security Conference in Washington on Thursday, Keating stressed the overwhelming importance of developing better and closer communications with Beijing.
He recalled that on one occasion, when China had suspended military-to-military dialogue with the US as a result of arms sales to Taiwan, he was unable to contact a senior official in Beijing during a potential crisis that could have led to a military clash.
After calling Chinese military headquarters on the “Beijing hotline” for 45 minutes — without getting a reply — he eventually established contact through South Korea.
Citing a potential military crisis in the East China Sea over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, Keating said it was essential to establish better communications in order to defuse any potential conflicts.
“We need conversation with Chinese officials — we must expand the dialogue,” he added.
He said that the US should try to attract Chinese military students to attend the US’ academies and at the same time send young military officers from the US to study in China.
It was a fundamental way to establish military friendships and develop contacts, he said.
Keating said a student swap might start with the Coast Guard Academies and build up from there.
“I am less interested in the exact spot [for training], as in the opportunities we can provide to disabuse the Chinese of ideas that we are looking to contain them — that is just not the case,” he said.
He said the US military would “love” to send students to study at Chinese military academies and have Chinese students at military academies in the US.
“But you can’t do that, according to Congress, it’s a law,” he added.
“I think the academies would love it, the Chinese would love it. They told me that when I was there,” Keating said.
“We have got to work on the State Department, and we have got to work on Congressional reluctance and resistance,” he added.
He said that a “concerted effort” needed to be made to open talks on the possibility of a military student exchange with Beijing.
He reiterated that it might start with “one small step,” such as establishing a program with the Coast Guard Academy or the Merchant Marine Academy.
“It could yield significant dividends — I would be enthusiastically in the corner of this one,” Keating said.
During a question-and-answer session, a Congressional expert in the audience told Keating that the main reason there was no cadet exchange program with Beijing was that the US had a long-standing policy of accepting cadets from Taiwan.
Keating suggested that any problems having Chinese and Taiwanese military cadets together at the same time might be cleared up through negotiations.
He added that Chinese and Taiwanese officials both attended the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies.
“Chinese and Taiwanese folks are in the building at the same time, not necessarily in the same room, but in the same building,” Keating said.