PACOM Adm. Keating at The Army & Navy Club in Washington today, reporting on his latest trip to China.
For better or for worse, most of the non-N. Korea, and non-Taiwan "diplomacy" with China seems to have been carried out in recent years by DOD, and especially the Navy. So you want to pay special attention to the PACOM, whomever holds the post, on these occasions.
On Taiwan, however, Keating said that all of the senior people he met with, naming Foreign Minister Yang, Gen. Gao, and others, talked of Taiwan in a "less strident and less confrontational tone than in the past. They understand the US position better than they did 10 months ago."
Keating by nature is a very positive salesman-type, judging from today, and last year's appearance at CSIS, and in other venues. As such, his inclination to be frank and critical is carefully modulated.
See today's response to a question on China's continued refusal to implement the requested "crisis hotline" with the US....that's being handled by the Secretary of Defense's office, not PACOM.
But when it's directly in his line of fire, as it were, Keating is not bashful...and a major, repeated theme of his talk was to stress not only the need for "transparency", but the specific definition of it as "transmittal of intentions."
Keating's point being "why are they fielding" that system, that capability? The US goal is to minimize confusion and lack of understanding, in order to prevent a crisis, and especially to see that a crisis does not escalate into conflict.
This is particularly a problem with China's ASAT test of last year, an event obviously "transparent", but the reasoning behind it remains unknown.
Keating noted the US knows China has and is developing "area denial weapons", and "some of them are interesting to us, possibly some are of concern". Nice understatement...
The admiral said that when he asks Chinese officials and counterparts about these things the PLA responded its "only to protect what's ours". Maybe, said Keating, but the US thinks some of these systems "exceed our own expectations for what would be needed"...so questions remain.
Chinese counterparts have been invited to this year's Cobra Gold exercises because the US wants to get the PRC involved in regional military activities.
India? "Remains fiercely not-aligned" but they are joining regional military exercises. Overall the situation with Delhi is "pleasant" a better situation than in the past.
Along somewhat the same lines, on the 6 Party nuclear talks with N. Korea Keating said "we are optimistic, very very very cautiously optimistic about reaching peace on the Peninsula"...adding "There are small signs the security situation on the Peninsula is changing for the better."
The Hong Kong port call denials problem...not a crisis...saw Keating repeating the Navy's very frank criticism of China's behavior as violating "international norms".
Keating said when he hit his Chinese hosts with this their response was in this tone, "yeah, we know, we understand..." The admiral also said he sees no hint of any "split" between the PLA and the political leadership, as has been speculated by some as the cause of the Hong Kong "misunderstanding."
One key point: much of our China diplomacy, Nelson observes, is being carried on by PACOM, which means: the Navy. That's reassuring in one way, since the Navy is historically a very level-headed branch of service, but it just shows how obsessed the Bush Administration has become with a few issues, to the detriment of our position and security concerns on a global scale. On Taiwan and China, Keating appears to be one of those people who "gets it."