U.S., China Navies Join Forces on Rescue Exercise
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
This past week, off the coast of Southern California, the U.S. and Chinese navies held their first ever bilateral exercises. This was not a military drill but a search and rescue exercise. Seaman from the two nations conducted mock flooding and medical emergency drills at sea. Admiral William J. Fallon is head of the U.S. Pacific Command, which oversaw this operation, and joins me now.
Thanks for talking with us Admiral Fallon.
Admiral WILLIAM J. FALLON (U.S. Navy): Well, it's a pleasure to be with you.
ELLIOTT: First off, will you explain to us what was involved in these exercises and what you were trying to achieve with them?
Adm. FALLON: Well, this was a first. We've been trying to improve our military to military relationships with the People's Republic of China for some time now. They had fallen into a non-entity after the collision of the Navy EP3 aircraft and a Chinese fighter back in 2001, and this exercise is a significant step. It's the first time we've actually had our forces operating together to do anything.
ELLIOTT: Now, the Pentagon has singled out China as a growing threat in its latest Quadrennial Defense Review. Is there any concern when you engage in this kind of joint exercise with China that somehow expertise that should not be shared is being shared with the Chinese navy?
Adm. FALLON: First of all, the 2006 China Military Power Report cited the potential for China to be a challenge in the future, and that's based on the reality of its huge population size and the fact that they have chosen to substantially invest in their military forces. Another angle here is that we're trying to get the Chinese to be much more open with us about what they're doing with their expenditures, and this is the issue that I've raised with them. It's certainly the issue that the Secretary of Defense has raised. There's a certain amount of suspicion and mistrust and there's also a reality that this is still a communist-run country and they've had a military that's been the primary guarantor of that system for a number of years.
So just the very idea of getting down to operational and tactical levels with these folks is quite a change from what they're used to.
ELLIOTT: You talk about support from Secretary Rumsfeld, and we've heard from at least one defense analyst on the matter of engaging with China who says the Pacific Command has met with some resistance at the Pentagon as far as building this relationship with the Chinese military. Do you have a different perspective, being there at the Pacific Command base in Hawaii, than someone sitting at the Pentagon?
Adm. FALLON: Well, I would suspect there's a little bit to be said from what you believe based on where you sit, but I've been working very closely with the Secretary of Defense and with the rest of our leadership, the National Security Council and the Department of State, as we work our way through this engagement. This isn't freelancing on the part of Pacific Command.
ELLIOTT: You've been to China yourself three times since you took over the Pacific Command a year and a half ago. Last month you even went beyond Beijing and got a rare glimpse of the city of Harbin near the Russian border. Is that unusual, that Chinese officials would let you travel to those places?
Adm. FALLON: I'm a novice at this business, but with each successive visit I've seen them be more and more willing to open up and to let me do things and see things that they would have resisted and certainly did at the outset. For example, I got a chance to go on a ship. We actually went to sea. They tell me that's the first time a U.S. Navy admiral has had that opportunity and was able to watch the crew go through their paces, and more importantly to talk to the leaders to see what they had on their minds. And each of these activities broadens the knowledge base, exposes more people to us, and vice versa.
ELLIOTT: Admiral William J. Fallon is head of the U.S. Pacific Command. Thank you so much for speaking with us, sir.
Adm. FALLON: My pleasure.
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