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June 11, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

Pentagon-China talks
The Pentagon is quietly set to resume formal defense talks with the Chinese military that were cut off in October over Beijing's anger at U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

However, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has told China he won't go to Beijing until a senior Chinese defense official first visits Washington. Mr. Gates told Chinese Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian in Singapore earlier this month, when an agreement was reached on holding the next round of Defense Consultative Talks, that he would not accept the invitation to visit Beijing until after China sends its defense minister or an equivalent official to Washington.

"The secretary said he would be glad to return to Beijing once his counterpart or equivalent there were to make a trip to Washington, where there is a standing invitation for him to come," said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell.

It is one of the few times that the Pentagon has imposed conditions for a U.S. military exchange with China. In most cases, China's military makes demands for visits.

Mr. Morrell said the issue for the secretary is reciprocity.

Mr. Gates last visited China in 2007 and met with Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan, who has not visited the United States since 2003.

The Defense Consultative Talks, which began in 1997, will be held in Beijing from June 23 to 24 and led by Michele A. Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy. Also expected to be part of the delegation is the Obama administration's new deputy assistant defense secretary in charge of China policy, Michael Schiffer, a program officer at the nonprofit Stanley Foundation.

Mr. Morrell said the next round of talks will seek to "re-engage" on a range of topics after the hiatus. He did not specify what was on the agenda.

The last talks took place in December 2007 in Beijing.

The defense talks come amid heightened tensions over Chinese naval harassment of U.S. ocean surveillance ships in the South China Sea and Yellow Sea.

The most serious incident involved several Chinese vessels sailing dangerously close to the USNS Impeccable in March near Hainan island.

China, for its part, cut off all defense talks after the Pentagon announced it planned to sell $6.5 billion in weapons to Taiwan under long-standing U.S. policy to provide for Taiwan's defense needs. China regards the island as a breakaway province and opposes the arms sales.

Mr. Morrell said China appears to have backed off the naval harassment, which China claimed was defensive in nature. "We've seen an improvement in the behavior of Chinese ships in terms of their interaction with us in those waters," he said, noting that the issue was not raised by Mr. Gates in his discussion with Gen. Ma in Singapore.

The U.S. goal in military exchanges with China has been to develop better relations with the communist-ruled military. However, defense officials involved in the talks say for the most part, the Chinese repeat prepared talking points and do not engage in a dialogue.

Several high-ranking U.S. military visitors recently traveled to China, including Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead. But few senior Chinese military leaders have come to the United States in recent months.

In 2006, Chinese President Hu Jintao told President George W. Bush that the commander of China's nuclear forces would visit the U.S. Strategic Command. However, the commander, Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, has never visited the U.S. Mr. Morrell said Mr. Gates is encouraged by lower-level talks on U.S.-China strategic issues.

However, for the past 10 years, U.S. military requests to visit the underground Chinese military command center at Western Hills in Beijing have been turned down. The facility is believed to house 250 to as many as 1,000 military personnel and is considered China's Pentagon.

Mr. Morrell said Mr. Gates will travel to Asia later this year and could visit China if a Chinese military leader first comes to Washington.

Mr. Gates favors exchanges and talks as a way of promoting military dialogue and transparency, he said.

Cartwright on rapid strike
The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently disclosed the military's strategic thinking on developing weapons and systems that can strike any target in the world within minutes.

Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright told the Center for Strategic and International Studies on June 4 that the need for what the military calls prompt global strike will be examined in the current strategic defense review.

Rapid attack capability is better than having to maintain expensive overseas bases or prepositioned equipment, Gen. Cartwright said.

The new "global strike" forces have been in development for at least five years, and weapons and technologies are "starting to emerge," the vice chairman said.

"Historically we have thought in terms of conventional bombers," Gen. Cartwright said.

"The reality today is conventional bombers for global strike probably [are] not credible. They're too slow. They're too intrusive. They require too many mother-may-I's to get from point A to point B, airspace cooperation, weapons passing through other countries. All of these types of things tend to limit this activity."

The new concept is to deliver a missile or other weapon "any place on the face of the Earth in an hour," he said.

For cyber strikes, "the high end of global strike is any place on the face of the Earth in about 300 milliseconds," Gen. Cartwright added.

Additionally, the military is working on high-speed, conventional-weapon-armed, long-range, hypersonic craft that can fly in the upper atmosphere or low space.

Rapid strike also will require "more than nuclear" forces because of the rapid growth of ballistic missiles of all ranges, he said.

U.S. missile defenses also are part of the new global strike concept because "you don't want the only approach here to be I'm going to hurt you."

The only shortcoming with global strike is that it is "not enough to sustain a fight," which is why foreign-based and deployed forces are still needed, Gen. Cartwright said.

North Korean activities
New details of North Korean trafficking in counterfeit U.S. currency were outlined in a foreign government report on the illicit activities that identified a top North Korean general as the central figure in the counterfeiting as well as drug trafficking.

The foreign government report, which was confirmed by U.S. intelligence officials, stated that Gen. O Kuk-ryol runs a North Korean government-sponsored program to produce and distribute high-quality counterfeit $100 bills and to engage in illicit narcotics trafficking with Asian organized crime gangs.

A North Korean diplomat at the country's U.N. mission in New York has denied charges that North Korea's government is involved in counterfeiting and other illegal activities.

The report identified Gen. O's son, O Se-won as "deeply involved with the importation of more than 75 kilograms of heroin found aboard a North Korean ship Pung Su seized by Australian authorities in April 2003. A Korean Workers Party official was among the 30 crew members charged with drug smuggling.

According to the report, profits from the sale of fake U.S. currency and narcotics have been used by the communist Worker's Party of Korea Office of the Clerk to buy luxury yachts for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his family and "tens of millions of dollars" worth of Mercedes-Benz cars and helicopters for the ruling Kim family.

The report also provided an example of how North Korea transfers supernotes through Africa. It identified Lee Il-nam, a diplomat posted to the North Korean Embassy in Ethiopia, as a courier for tens of thousands of supernotes that were sent from Pyongyang to Beijing and to Ethiopia between May 2003 and September 2004.

According to the report, the diplomat worked with another North Korean diplomat in Addis Ababa, Joo Ryong-woon. Both were detained in January 2004 by authorities in the Persian Gulf state of Dubai on suspicion of circulating counterfeit supernotes, the report said.

The report also stated that North Korean arms trafficking includes covert sales of missiles, tanks, torpedo boats and submarines to Iran and Ethiopia.

Pyongyang sought to hide the arms sales by using accounts in other countries, the report said. The North Koreans also sought to hide the arms sales from international monitors by disguising the transactions through front companies. One bank mentioned in the report as a conduit for the arms sales was a Chinese state bank, the report said.

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at

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