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U.S.-China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress

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Publication Date: April 2009

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL32496

Topic: Military and defense (Military policy)

Coverage: China

Abstract:

This CRS Report discusses policy issues regarding military-to-military contacts with the People's Republic of China (PRC) and provides a record of contacts since 1993. The United States suspended military contacts with China and imposed sanctions on arms sales in response to the Tiananmen Crackdown in 1989. In 1993, the Clinton Administration began to re-engage the PRC leadership up to the highest level and including China's military, the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Renewed military exchanges with the PLA have not regained the closeness reached in the 1980s, when the United States and China cooperated strategically against the Soviet Union, including U.S. arms sales to China. Improvements and deteriorations in overall bilateral relations have affected military contacts, which were close in 1997- 1998 and 2000, but marred by the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, mistaken NATO bombing of a PRC embassy in 1999, and the EP-3 aircraft collision incident in 2001.

Since 2001, the Bush Administration has continued the policy of engagement with China, while the Pentagon has skeptically reviewed and cautiously resumed a program of military-to-military (mil-to-mil) exchanges. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in 2002, resumed the Defense Consultative Talks (DCT) with the PLA (first held in 1997) and, in 2003, hosted General Cao Gangchuan, a Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and Defense Minister. General Richard Myers (USAF), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited China in January 2004, as the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to do so since November 2000. He did not announce any plan for the highest-ranking PLA officer, General Guo Boxiong, to visit the United States. The last time that the highest-ranking PLA officer visited the United States was General Zhang Wannian's visit in 1998. Moreover, no Secretary of Defense has visited China since Secretary William Cohen's visit in 2000. While in Beijing on January 30, 2004, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage acknowledged that "the military-to-military relationship had gotten off to a rocky start," but he said that "we're getting back on track."

Issues for Congress include whether the Administration has complied with legislation overseeing dealings with the PLA and has determined a program of contacts with the PLA that advances a prioritized list of U.S. security interests. Section 902 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for FYs 1990 and 1991 (P.L. 101-246) prohibits arms sales to China , among other stipulations, in response to the Tiananmen Crackdown. Section 1201 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2000 (P.L. 106-65) restricts "inappropriate exposure" of the PLA to certain operational areas and requires reports on contacts with the PLA.

Skeptics and proponents of military exchanges with the PRC have debated whether the contacts have had significant value for achieving U.S. objectives and whether the contacts have contributed to the PLA's warfighting capabilities that might harm U.S. security interests. U.S. security interests in mil-to-mil contacts with China might include communication, conflict-prevention, and crisis-management; information-gathering; tension-reduction over Taiwan; weapons nonproliferation; counter-terrorism; and accounting for American prisoners-of-war/missing-in-action (POW/MIAs). This CRS Report will be updated as warranted.