U.S.-China Talks Mark New Role; NCOs Lead Mission of Diplomacy

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Halloran, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

HONOLULU -- The U.S. Pacific Command has opened a new channel of communications with the People's Liberation Army of China - a diplomatic liaison with senior noncommissioned officers.

The exchange comes at a time of deteriorating U.S.-Russia military relations but was planned months ago. U.S. officials are loath to imply any connection between the two developments.

The Sino-U.S. exchange marked the first use of noncommissioned officers in a diplomatic role, said Chief Master Sgt. James Roy of the Air Force.

Sgt. Roy led the delegation of 16 senior NCOs to China and is preparing to receive a Chinese delegation in a reciprocal visit to U.S. forces in Hawaii this fall.

We went to understand them better and to have them understand us, he said in an interview.

We did not go to help them to build capacity.

U.S. military officials said the effort has two goals: to deter China from confronting the U.S. with armed force and to reassure the Chinese that the U.S. is not seeking to contain their nation.

NCOs - enlisted service members who rise through the ranks - are responsible for the day-to-day care, feeding, training and work of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. Like foremen, they are charged with getting work accomplished and are considered the backbone of the U.S. armed forces.

U.S. military exchanges with China have been criticized by neoconservatives and others who warn that China uses the visits to upgrade its forces.

As a result, Sino-U.S. military relations have traveled a bumpy road for years.

The exchanges have increased in the final months of the Bush administration, apparently following a tone set by Adm. Dennis Blair, who led the Pacific Command in 1999.

In testimony before Congress, Adm. Blair said that U.S. military leaders sought to make two points to the Chinese:

* We're not sitting here planning to contain China. We're not sitting here dying to pick a fight with China. We basically are an armed force in a democratic society who will fight if we must but prefer not to. And we'll support American interests if we have to, but don't mess with us.

* We are very aware in our program of not giving away more than we get from these exchanges. We're not doing it to be nice guys. We're doing it to get our job done, of teaching the Chinese what sort of capability we have out there.

Plans for U.S. military contacts with China contrast with deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow on both military and diplomatic fronts.

Russia announced Thursday that it had tested an intercontinental missile.

The launch was specially tasked to test the missile's capability to avoid ground-based detection systems, Col. …