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US commander invites China to observe Guam drills|
The commander of US forces in the Pacific, Admiral William Fallon, has invited Chinese officers to observe US-led joint military exercises next summer near the Pacific island of Guam, a move pointing toward a warming-up of the military ties between the two Pacific powers.
Chinese Defence Minister General Cao Gangchuan (R) measures an unidentified U.S. military officer as the commander of U.S. Pacific Command Admiral William Fallon (C) looks on during a meeting in the Chinese Ministry of Defence in Beijing May 10, 2006. [Reuters]
Admiral Fallon is reportedly having flashed a broad grin as he sat in the cockpit of a twin-engine FB-7 fighter-bomber, China's most advanced domestically produced warplane in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province.
"They had to drag me out of there," recalled Fallon, a veteran carrier pilot, as he described the first such close look by a US official of the modern two-seater, which is scheduled to become a key part of China's air defenses.
According to a Washington Post report, Fallon's visit to China's 28th Air Division, based near Hangzhou, and his pilot's inspection of the newly deployed FB-7 were high points in a week-long tour of Chinese military installations and meetings with senior officers, including Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan.
At a windup briefing in Shenyang, Northeast China's Liaoning Province, Monday, Fallon said the visits marked a significant step forward in his drive to increase contacts between the US and Chinese militaries as a way to dissolve suspicions and reduce chances that the two powers will go to war.
"They really went out of their way to accommodate nearly everything I wanted to do," he said. The goal, he added, is to push for more contacts, "to see more things and different things, and to be more open and transparent in military matters," the Washington Post reported
Seeking to accelerate the movement, Fallon said, he invited senior Chinese officers to observe the upcoming military drills near the Guam, promising them the opportunity to review US bases and board US warships during air-sea drills.
Implicit in the invitation, he added, was the idea that, if the Chinese attend, they would reciprocate by inviting US officers to observe future Chinese exercises "in a manner we would like to make a standard for both countries."
"That's what this is all about," he said, adding: "There are extensive contacts in every area. The one lag, the one exception, is in military-to-military contacts. We set out last year to right that."
Fallon said during his 90-minute discussions with General Cao, who is vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, he was asked why the Pentagon, in its recent Quadrennial Defense Report, suggested China is the country with the greatest potential to pose a challenge to the US military in the future.
"As we discussed these items, it struck me that we have a long way to go," Fallon said.
The United States and China cut off military contacts in 2001 after a US Navy EP-3 surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter collided over the South China Sea, killing a Chinese pilot and forcing the US aircraft to make an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island.
Since taking over as head of the Honolulu-based US Pacific Command in February 2005, Fallon has campaigned to restore and strengthen the ties, seeking to multiply contacts at all levels of the two countries' military hierarchies.
Cao also endorsed restoring and expanding military-to-military relations, telling the New China News Agency that they are "an important part of bilateral relations." But he did not immediately respond to Fallon's invitation for Chinese officers to observe next summer's Valiant Shield exercises around Guam.