February 18, 2006
Briefing the Chinese Army
States Pacific Command and the People’s Liberation Army
of China have quietly begun an exchange of military officers that
is intended to reduce the chances of a miscalculation leading
to hostilities between the established power in the Pacific and
the rising power of East Asia.
of 20 senior Chinese officers visited Hawaii, where the Pacific
Command has its headquarters, and Alaska, which is within the
command’s area of responsibility, in November. A group of
Chinese specialists in military personnel came in January. The
first American delegation is scheduled to go to China next month.
officer of the Pacific Command, Admiral William J. Fallon, said
in an interview that this has been a "significant engagement."
Most U.S. military exchanges with China were cut off in 1989 after
Chinese troops had killed unknown numbers of Chinese advocates
of democracy in Tienanmen Square in Beijing.
resumed during President Bill Clinton’s Administation in
the 1990’s but were conducted mainly by high level defense
officials and military officers. After President George W. Bush
came to office in 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered
a review of the entire program.
stopped in April of that year after a Chinese fighter pilot clipped
a U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane over the South China Sea. The Chinese
plane spiraled into the sea while the U.S. plane made an emergency
landing on the island of Hainan in China.
senior officials of the Bush Administration have been skeptical
of renewing military exchanges with China, arguing that they do
not benefit the United States. Many military officers, however,
have contended that well-done exchanges would deter the Chinese
once they were informed of U.S. capabilities and intentions.
said the Chinese officers in the current exchanges, who are the
first operational officers representing the next generation of
military leaders to come to America, had arrived with "a
very high desire to learn" as they didn’t know much
about the U.S. armed forces beforehand.
A U.S. staff
officer who dealt with the Chinese during their visit confirmed
that, saying "they didn’t know anything about America
except what they learned from Hollywood." American officers
said they thought they had been able to correct some of the mistaken
impressions held by the Chinese, most of whom were making their
first trip abroad.
group of 20 Chinese officers, led by Major General Zhang Wenda,
a deputy chief of the general staff, was equally divided between
operational officers who train and lead soldiers and political
commissars who monitor the Chinese forces, or PLA, to make sure
the troops are politically correct.
were mostly one-star brigadier generals but their responsibilities,
as brigade commanders for instance, were those of American colonels,
one grade below. Each Chinese was paired with an American, five
of whom spoke Chinese, through the weeklong stay. Four Chinese
To set an
example, Admiral Fallon instructed American officers to be as
open as possible, without divulging secrets, in answering Chinese
questions. U.S. military leaders, from President George W. Bush
down, have long complained that the Chinese lack "transparency"
in everything from military spending to troop training.
were briefed not only at the Pacific Command headquarters but
at the Pacific Air Force and Pacific Fleet headquarters in Hawaii
and at the Army’s command post in Alaska, a five hour flight
from Honolulu. American officers said the Chinese were surprised
by the vast area for which the Pacific Command is responsible.
said they were ready to respond to Chinese questions about strategy
but found the Chinese not prepared to discuss issues at that level.
Instead, they focused on tactical questions such as how long it
took to begin moving a brigade (18 hours) and how did a U.S. colonel
control his brigade.
enjoyed dining with American soldiers in Alaska and looking at
their two-and three-man rooms in a new barracks, which are far
more comfortable than the spartan barracks in China. They went
on a shopping spree at the Pearl Harbor base exchange and bought
out the inventory of Chanel no. 5 perfume.
you go to China and catch a whiff of Chanel No. 5," said
an American officer, "that’s probably a PLA wife."
Chinese arrived, Admiral Fallon said, "they were full of
propaganda" about how the U.S. was seeking to surround and
contain China. American officers who dealt with the Chinese thought
they had been able to persuade them that the U.S. intended China
no harm—but would use military power, if necessary to defend
think they went away with a good balance," said one.
group of Chinese, the specialists in personnel, wanted to know
what American military people are paid. When they were told that
an American colonel made $11,540 in pay and allowances, a Chinese
said: "That’s a year, right?" "No,"
replied his American counterpart, "that’s a month."
The Chinese was evidently stunned.
visit, the Chinese were taken to the USS Arizona memorial above
the battleship sunk by the Japanese in their surprise attack of
Dec. 7, 1941, to bring America into World War II. The ship still
rests on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, reflecting perhaps the greatest
defeat in American history.
yards downstream, however, sits the battleship USS Missouri aboard
which the Japanese surrendered to end World War II on Sept. 2,
1945. It reflects a distinct triumph of American arms. U.S. officers
said they thought the Chinese had gotten the message:
do bad stuff to us," said an American officer, "and
bad stuff happens to you."
Richard Halloran, formerly
with The New York Times as a foreign correspondent in Asia and
military correspondent in Washington, writes from Honolulu. He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org