By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
November 5, 2007
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is traveling in China this week to discuss a host of issues including “transparency,” space security, cyber security, and the possible installation of a hot line between the two nations.
One of Mr. Gates’ key goals is to encourage China toward more “transparency“ or honest openness in its military budgets, programs and intentions.
The U.S. has been baffled by — and complained about — China’s penchant for secrecy in all things and its sometimes starteling behavior. One surprise incident transpired in 2001 when a U.S. “spy plane” was hit in mid-air — apparently intentionally — by a Chinese fighter jet. The American flight crew and aircraft were held by the Chinese in a provacative standoff.
Secrecy and inexplicable behavior are almost the main hallmarks of communist China’s way of doing business.
But the current regime, headed by President Hu Jintao, considers itself relatively frank and open.
For example, ten years ago, the world would not have known about a Chinese Communist Party Conference until after the conclusion of the event. Last month, China had such a conference, punctuated by televised addresses and nightly news conferences.
Despite these format and window dressing changes, the West still didn’t learn much of the substance about what was really going on.
One of President Hu’s favorites in the Chinese bureaucracy is Vice Premier Wu Yi (her nickname is “The Iron Lady“). She is currently in charge of cleaning up the tainted food scandal. Time Magazine has called her the “goddess of transparency” — which must have made President Hu and Vice Premier Wu beam with pride.
Transparency, and in fact all the other key issues — space security, cyber security, and installation of a hot line between the two nations — might lessen regional tensions.
Japan and Australia have gone on the record with their concerns that China’s lack of openness combined with provocative actions like the test of an anti-satellite system, may be causing instability in the Western pacific region.
Early last July a Defense White Paper from Japan expressed concern about China. “There are fears about the lack of transparency concerning China’s military strength,” the paper said. “In January this year, China used ballistic missile technology to destroy one of its own satellites. There was insufficient explanation from China, sparking concern in Japan and other countries about safety in space as well as the security aspects.”
That same week, Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard said, “The pace and scope of [China’s] military modernization, particularly the development of new and disruptive capabilities such as the anti-satellite missile, could create misunderstandings and instability in the region.”
And on Saturday, November 3, 2007, the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun published an account of their interview with South Korea’s President Roh Moo-Hyun who voiced concern over Japan and China’s military capabilities and build-up.”The hostile relationship between Japan and China is a burden for South Korea,” the President said in the interview.
“Both must make efforts to change their relationship of being vigilant towards each other and of expanding their military arsenal. It’s inevitable that they would react sensitively (to one another),” he added.
The U.S. has concerns about China too, but Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen have gone out of their way to say that China is not a rival or an adversary.
But speaking to Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz last week, Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel Leaf, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said that China’s anti-satellite test and the robust and continual computer hacking caused by China has resulted in increased emphasis in those defense areas for the U.S.
“There has been significant discussion and activity to assess the impact of [the anti-satellite test] and other [Chinese] space developments, and how to protect our extraordinarily important space capability,” he said.
Pentagon officials and media reports have said Chinese military hackers in recent months carried out computer-based attacks on Pentagon and U.S. military and civilian government computer networks, as well as on foreign government networks. Newspapers even cited reliable Pentagon sources as saying Secretary Gates’ Pentagon computer may have been penetrated or disrupted by the Chinese.
And China has established detailed protective measures of its own computer systems, sometimes called “The Great Cyber Wall.”
The idea of a “hot line,” or direct telephone hook-up with round-the-clock translators, comes from a system used for years between the Soviet Union and the United States. The hot line is believed to be a major tool toward increased understanding of events and intentions — thus preventing conflict or weapons use through a misunderstanding.
The idea gained momentum especially among senior Naval Officers after a Chinese submarine surfaced unannounced and unexpectedly and within shooting range of the American aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk late last year.
JCS Chairman Admiral Mullen is known to be a proponent of the hot line and has already discussed the idea with his Chinese counterpart.
So Mr. Gates has clear objectives as he holds discussions with senior Chinese military leaders.
It should come as no surprise that China’s objectives remain shrouded in secrecy.
In Part II on Tuesday we’ll assess the elephant in the meeting room: China’s bocking of U.S. initiatives in the U.N.
Whether the discussions between the U.S. and China will bear fruit remains to be seen. We’ll discuss this more in Part II tomorrow.