US And China To Meet In Bid To Cut Tensions

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Financial Times
February 21, 2008 By Victor Mallet, Asia Editor
Nine retired senior military commanders from the US and China will meet behind closed doors on the Chinese island of Hainan on Thursday in a drive to reduce tensions between the two powers, the Financial Times has learned.
Organisers of the three-day meeting – approved by government ministers in Washington and Beijing and financed largely by businesspeople trying to improve US-China relations – believe it is the highest such informal encounter between military experts of the two countries.
Participants say the experienced military commanders, some of whom retired only in the past two years and have stayed in frequent contact with their successors, will be able to discuss problems more frankly and productively than their active service counterparts.
The gathering begins at a resort hotel in Sanya on Thursday on the anniversary of US President Richard Nixon’s historic trip to China in 1972 to meet Chairman Mao Zedong and normalise diplomatic relations.
Those who paid for the meeting include Vincent Mai, chairman of AEA Investors; Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chief executive of CV Starr; and the foundation of Tung Chee-hwa, the former Hong Kong chief executive.
Bill Owens, a retired four-star admiral and former vice-chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, leads the US delegation of four senior ex-commanders. The Chinese group of five generals is headed by Mr Owens’ counterpart, Xiong Guangkai, a former military intelligence commander who was deputy chief of the general staff in China for a decade.
“There is this great passion for trying to find ways to bring the countries together as friends,” Mr Owens, now chief executive of private equity group AEA Investors Asia, told the FT. “Hopefully this will be the beginning of something, not the end.”
One topic of discussion at the meetings, some of which will be held on a fishing boat, is likely to be the risk of conflict in the Taiwan Strait. China has threatened to seize by force the is­land of Taiwan, which enjoys de facto independence, if it secedes.
Since the Nixon visit, the US has maintained a “One China” policy, but it also supports Taiwan and provides it with weapons. US officials say Chinese planners have been devising ways of denying the US Seventh Fleet access to the area in the event of war. Another concern is the militarisation of space.
Speaking in Hawaii, Admiral Timothy Keating, head of US Pacific Command, said he welcomed the private initiative. He said Adm Owens had informed him about his plans during a recent meeting in Hong Kong, but added that he was unaware whether the Pentagon had explicitly approved the engagement.
“I sent him a letter [afterwards] enthusiastically supporting the initiative,” said Adm Keating. “It is another step in the long journey towards better understanding … and respect for our respective perspectives.”
Adm Keating, who has visited China twice since assuming command less than a year ago, said that while he does not worry about China very much, he would like Beijing to be more explicit about the intentions behind its military build-up.
“The buzzword has been transparency with China. In our view that falls a little bit short,” said Adm Keating. “Just knowing the equipment, the hardware, while transparent, doesn’t necessarily indicate intention.”
Adm Keating added that while there was a long road ahead in building US-China military relations, he was more confident about the relationship now than a year ago.
“Between the two of us, we will reduce the potential for misunderstanding that exists,” he said.