China military delegation’s visit to sensitive U.S. sites challenged by Congress, May 25, 2011

China’s top general and a delegation of 24 Chinese military officials were permitted to visit sensitive U.S. military sites last week despite a 2000 law that prohibits exchanges that bolster Beijing’s military forces.

Gen. Chen Bingde was permitted to see warfighting systems and technology at the Norfolk Naval bases, Fort Stewart, Georgia and the Air Force’s Nellis Air Force Base, where combat exercises, including cyberwarfare exercises are carried out.

U.S. Army Col. David P. Anders, commander of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, and Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of the Chinese army’s General Staff, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. DOD Photo by Staff Sgt. Sun L. Vega

The Pentagon said the visit was cleared by security and policy officials but members of Congress said the Chinese military should not have been allowed to go to the sensitive facilities.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. and chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concerns and called for tightening restrictions.

"Congress must immediately review existing prohibitions against giving Chinese officials access to sensitive information and determine if they need to be strengthened," Ros-Lehten said in a statement.

Chen told reporters at the Pentagon after meetings with senior defense officials on May 25 that if the Pentagon goes ahead with additional arms sales to Taiwan, it would undermine U.S.-China military relations.

Ros-Lehtinen said the visit by 24 PLA officers "raises a number of questions about the policies in place to safeguard U.S. national security-related information and the foreign policy implications of the administration’s response to Chinese actions against U.S. interests and allies."

"The visit to Nellis Air Force Base is especially troubling, given its key role in our defenses against cyberwarfare and other high-tech threats," she said.

China is actively engaged in cyber-attacks against the U.S., including massive assaults on U.S. government and civilian and defense networks, Ros-Lehtinen said.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on investigations, said visits like those by Gen. Chen violate the limits set by Congress in a 2000 defense authorization law when they involve advanced U.S. weapons or military activities.

"We should not open to Chinese generals and admirals major military bases like the Norfolk Naval Station, the Army National Training Center, and Nellis Air Force Base, where our famous Red Flag air and cyberwarfare exercises are held," Rohrabacher said.

"The People’s Republic is not an allied, or even a friendly country, and should not be given this kind of privileged access."

Rohrabacher said he is concerned the Chinese will gain valuable war-fighting knowledge from the visit that could be used against U.S. forces in any future conflict. "These visits will not reduce tensions arising from Chinese expansion," he said. "The Beijing dictatorship will only see such gestures as signs of an appeasement policy by the Obama administration."

In the past, visiting Chinese military officials have protested U.S. legal restrictions during meetings with their American counterparts.

The restrictions were passed in the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) after an incident in the late 1990s when a visiting Chinese military officer learned through an exchange the location of a key vulnerability of U.S. aircraft carriers. Months later, U.S. intelligence agencies detected China’s purchase of guided torpedoes from Russia that appeared linked to intelligence gained by China from the visit.


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