By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
HONOLULU, March 25, 2007 - By their words and deeds, Chinese military leaders made Marine Gen. Peter Pace welcome in their country and showed their desire to find common ground.
Pace and his staff arrived in Beijing March 22 and left from Nanjing today. In between, there were a number of "firsts" for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Every single Chinese leader I met with went out of their way to make sure that our needs were accommodated," Pace said during an interview on his way back to the United States. "They made it abundantly clear to me both in the way they treated us person-to-person and in the things that we saw that they were interested in this being a successful trip."
The trip was a way to continue dialogue between senior U.S. and Chinese leaders and to build military-to-military relations. During the first meeting with his Chinese counterpart, People's Liberation Army Gen. Liang Guanglie listed a number of suggestions to move the relationship forward.
Liang suggested exchanges of students at the cadet level, more junior officer level exchanges and more senior officer meetings, Pace said. The two military leaders said they would also like to do more search and rescue exercises and find ways to cooperate on humanitarian relief exercises.
"All of the proposals they offered were well-within the realm of the possible based on the current restrictions under which we both operate," Pace said.
The general will work with the services, U.S. Pacific Command, the Joint Staff and the office of the secretary of defense staff to quickly implement the proposals, "because they all made good sense," Pace said.
Both men want a hotline running between Beijing and the Pentagon set up quickly.
"Now that I have had a chance to visit with my counterpart and I can put a face to a name, and a personality to that name and face, being able to pick up a phone and say to General Liang ... 'we have an issue we need to talk about' is possible now," Pace said. "You can reduce considerably the confusion and miscalculation, if you can pick up the phone and say, 'this is what I'm seeing. What are you seeing?'"
Pace visited the PLA's University of Science and Technology - akin to the U.S. service academies - today before leaving Nanjing. "I told the cadets at their military academy that when I was graduating from our Naval Academy it was inconceivable that a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would do the things that I did on this trip," Pace said.
The Chinese let the chairman visit and get into their top-of-the-line air superiority fighter, the Su-27, during a visit to Anshan Air Base. They also let him examine and drive around in their state-of-the-art T-99 tank after he observed a military exercise at Dalian military training area. Both were firsts for U.S. officers, Chinese officials said.
"It was indicative the lengths which the Chinese wanted to indicate to me their willingness to find common ground," Pace said.
Pace said he would like to see continued visits at his level on a yearly basis. He would like to see visits by other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, staff visits by senior members of the Joint Staff with their Chinese counterparts and would like to see the leaders of the military academies visiting their counterparts.
"That's the kind of recurring dialogue that opens pathways for better understanding," Pace said.
A military force is by nature command driven, and now the leaders of both militaries have given their blessings to the continued cooperation. "You've got to have senior decision-makers deciding it's the right thing to do, that it's okay to do more," Pace said.
He said the Chinese clearly understand the U.S. position on military transparency. "I think they believe a lot of what they are doing is a head nod in the direction of transparency on their part," Pace said, alluding to being allowed to go to the Su-27 and T-99 tank.
Chinese leaders also took time to talk about the details of their newest defense budget. Chinese military spending jumped almost 18 percent this year to around $44 billion. "I think they want to be more transparent, but like anything else that we do together, there's a difference between the things that we would want to know and the things they want to show us," Pace said. "We have to close that gap."
Pace understand that no military is going to share everything. "It's not as important how much money they are spending on the budget, as it is what capabilities they are buying and why they want those capabilities," he said.
Pace used the example of the U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review. He said that document is important because it details where the United States wants to go in military development and why. "If we had the same kind of transparency from the Chinese, it would go a long way towards reducing misunderstandings," he said.
And understanding each other was at the heart of the trip to China. "It was amply clear to me that they wanted me to feel welcome and they wanted to show me things they had never shown anybody else to make the point that they wanted to move closer," he said.
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