Perry ends China trip with reopened military-to-military ties

October 19, 1994|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- Claiming to have laid the cornerstone to stronger U.S.-Chinese military relations, Defense Secretary William J. Perry ended three days of meetings yesterday with senior Chinese defense officials.

"We do not see China as a threat to the United States, and a goal of our policy is to be able to continue to make that statement," Mr. Perry said.

The trip formally ends today with Mr. Perry visiting the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, formerly known as Chungking, to honor U.S. and Chinese soldiers who died in World War II fighting Japan.

Chongqing was at the northern end of a huge U.S. airlift from Myanmar, formerly Burma, that helped keep Nationalist Chinese forces supplied during the war.

The trip to Chongqing symbolizes one of the warmer eras in Sino-U.S. relations that the Clinton administration is trying to recapture.

But instead of wartime camaraderie, the administration is hoping for the close working relationship of the 1980s, when both sides backed each other up in opposing the Soviet Union.

Those military ties were severed by the 1989 massacre of civilian protesters near Tiananmen Square. Mr. Perry is the first defense secretary to visit China since then, and his trip marks a reopening of military-to-military ties.

Except for an agreement to help China modernize its air traffic control system and a decision to hold military briefings in Washington and Beijing, the three days of talks produced no major breakthroughs.

Left unresolved were issues such as tension on the Korean Peninsula; Chinese sale of ballistic missiles and nuclear technology to unstable regimes; China's crackdown on dissenters; China's ambitious aim to control the South China Sea; and China's unwillingness to renounce the use of force in reunifying with Taiwan.

But few had expected breakthroughs during the talks.

Indeed, Mr. Perry said his goal on this trip was simply to "re-establish communication with the PLA [People's Liberation Army] and China's defense establishment."

He did that yesterday, for example, by giving a speech to about 300 generals at the PLA National Defense University.

He told the generals that the United States and China both want stability but that China could stoke an Asian arms race if it doesn't curb weapons sales.

"If disputed territorial claims . . . erupt into conflict, it could be a devastating blow to regional security and threaten sea lines of communication vital to the U.S.," Mr. Perry said.

He also urged the PLA to be more open with its strategies and budget, which is officially just a few billion dollars.

Analysts believe that the budget is really up to 10 times greater.

Mr. Perry said he did not believe that China's military strategies were threatening to its neighbors, but he said that a lack of transparency could foster the wrong impression.

Mr. Perry said he did not discuss weapons sales to China or transfer of military technology -- two key areas of interest to China, which is slowly developing a modern navy and air force.

He also emphasized that human rights were essential to improved military ties.

When asked, however, how the United States would measure improved human rights, Mr. Perry only said that the United States and China had started talks on human rights and that he thought that human rights had improved in China.

The talks came just as U.S. and Korean negotiators announced agreement on a freeze in the North Korean nuclear development program in exchange for U.S. concessions.

Mr. Perry said that Korean relations had been a topic of his talks but that he could not elaborate on the agreement.

"I would caution you that this is just an agreement between negotiators," Mr. Perry said, adding that it still had to be discussed with U.S. allies and President Clinton.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Perry had breakfast with U.S. business leaders, who criticized the Clinton administration for keeping in place bans on the sale of certain kinds of sophisticated military technologies.

The ban was put in place after the Tiananmen killings.

"The problem for us is not cutting a good deal in China; rather, it is cutting any sort of deal back in our country," said Richard J. Latham, head of United Technologies Corp.'s China office.

Mr. Perry, however, said he saw no chance "in the foreseeable future" of U.S. arms sales or military technology transfers to China.

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