U.S. Army General Meets China Officials Amid Regional Tensions

General Raymond Odierno, the U.S. Army chief of staff, held talks with his military counterparts in Beijing amid growing regional tensions involving China.

Odierno met with Wang Ning, deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, at the defense ministry, U.S. Embassy spokesman Nolan Barkhouse said. He was also scheduled to meet Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, one of China’s highest-ranking military officials.

The visit reflects attempts to build trust between the two armed forces as China increasingly asserts itself in Asia, including patrolling waters where the U.S. has traditionally guaranteed security. In November, China set up an air defense identification zone covering East China Sea islands disputed with Japan, demanding civil and military aircraft present flight plans to enter the space. The U.S has refused to recognize the zone and continues flights in the area.

“We have many common objectives about our countries so I think it’s important to have this kind of dialog,” Odierno said during his meeting with Wang, according to a pool report. “We both have incredibly professional armies.” Odierno is set to visit the headquarters of the Shenyang military region tomorrow, Barkhouse said.

In a sign of the increased presence of the Chinese navy in Asian waters, the official Xinhua News Agency reported a flotilla of three ships returned to base Feb. 11 after a 23-day patrol of the East and South China Seas, with the ships entering the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific for drills. China is separately embroiled in territorial disputes with Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

Clarifying Intentions

A Chinese vessel cut in front of the USS Cowpens guided-missile cruiser from a distance of 100 yards in the South China Sea on Dec. 5, an incident U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said was “unhelpful” and “irresponsible.”

It is the hope of both sides that strengthening military ties will help curb distrust, Jia Qingguo, professor and associate dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, said by phone. China’s navy is increasingly involved in maintaining world order, he said, such as helping as an escort in the transport of Syria’s chemical weapons.

“It all depends on how the navy is used rather than whether China has the capabilities,” he said. “More military exchanges may help clarify China’s intentions and also may help shape this development in a positive direction.”

‘Short’ War

China’s PLA has been given a new task to be able to conduct a “short, sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea,” followed by a seizure of the disputed islands, James Fanell, director of intelligence and information operations with the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said at a conference Feb. 13 in San Diego, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.

The comments did not reflect the view of the Department of Defense, and the U.S. continues “to want to improve our bilateral military relations with China and that -- that we also think that a major component of that is increased transparency on their part about the investments they’re making and the operations they’re conducting,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said at a briefing yesterday.

China’s defense spending reached $240 billion last year, about twice the officially declared budget, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said this week. China’s official defense spending is less than a fifth of the U.S.

Bombers, Drones

China’s air force is fielding new precision-guided cruise missiles, long-range bombers and drones, according to U.S. military intelligence officials.

The air force will make training more like “real combat,” the People’s Liberation Daily newspaper said yesterday, in a report on seven new measures for combat training. The air force will increase drills in all weather conditions and improve training under “difficult” real-combat conditions, it said.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force is becoming “better,” the commander of U.S. air forces in the Pacific, General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, told Bloomberg Feb. 9 in an interview. “The PLAF is a very capable air force and they are getting more capable all the time.”

Still Modernizing

While defense spending has more than doubled since 2006, China is still modernizing its forces at a time when the U.S. is dedicating more military resources to the Asia-Pacific and Japan expands its own navy. China’s ability to police its East China Sea air zone or to expand the zone further south may be constrained by the lagging technology of its armed forces.

China’s level of military modernization doesn’t compare with the world’s advanced armed forces, Xu Qiliang, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, wrote in a book explaining reforms outlined in a Communist Party meeting in November. There is a “large gap” between the military and the needs of national security, Xu said.

— With assistance by Henry Sanderson

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