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April 18, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

China divisions
Some of China's military leaders are not completely united with civilian Communist Party leaders, prompting fears among U.S. intelligence analysts last month that Chinese forces were set to take some kind of independent action against Taiwan, Pentagon officials said.

Sensitive intelligence reports obtained by the U.S. over the past several months indicated that military commanders in China thought they had authority to use military forces without first seeking permission from Beijing's leaders, the officials said.

The reports indicated the specific issue for China's military was Taiwan's March 22 nationwide referendum on whether to seek membership in the United Nations under the name Taiwan, rather than the current Republic of China. The measure failed to gain a majority of voters.

However, the officials said, China's military leaders thought that passage of the referendum would be tantamount to a declaration of independence, a red line that Chinese leaders have set as a trigger for the use of force to reunite the island with the mainland.

What alarmed officials were the indications that the action could be taken without first obtaining clearance from civilian leaders in Beijing, specifically Chinese President Hu Jintao, whose authority over the military comes from his party position as chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Three U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups were dispatched to waters near Taiwan in the weeks leading up to the March 22 presidential elections, in part because of the intelligence, the officials said.

One official said the divide is not a "hawks-versus-doves" split but is more complex and appears related to new assertiveness by top military leaders.

Other signs of the split include the military's blocking of the planned November port visit to Hong Kong by the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, which had been approved by civilian Chinese officials, and discontinuity on official Chinese responses to the January 2007 anti-satellite weapon test by China.

The apparent divisions have prompted the Bush administration to seek a strategic military dialogue with Beijing, something China so far has not accepted.

Heritage Foundation China specialist John Tkacik said Beijing has used leaks of intelligence in the past to telegraph threats of military action. It is "highly likely that they leaked this intelligence -- in connection with direct official warnings in diplomatic channels -- to get America to buy in to the idea that Taiwan's pro-independence presidential candidate must be defeated."

Mr. Tkacik said there is "cleavage" within the Chinese Communist Party between those who think the party must focus on social ills, and those who regard a "powerful army" as essential to the "wealth of the nation."

China's military now thinks the country is such a wealthy state and that now the top priority should be on creating a power army, he said.

Mideast tensions
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. David E. Baker thinks that despite signs of tensions there is little prospect of a new war between Israel and Hezbollah.

However, Gen. Baker, the director of national security research at the Stanford Group, is predicting some type of U.S. military action against Iran.

"I would not be surprised, however, if the U.S. military takes action against some Iranian military bases that are directly involved in and supporting the insurgents in Iraq," Gen. Baker stated in a research report. "While this support by the al Quds unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is not entirely new, its direct involvement in the recent battle at Al Basrah and rocket attacks on Baghdad's Green Zone has highlighted how much the Iranians are actually participating to promote instability in Iraq."

Heightened tensions in the region include reports of Israeli military preparations and the movement of the aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Abraham Lincoln, which is on its way to the Persian Gulf.

Israel is engaged in a nationwide military and security exercise that's one of the biggest in its history.

"The best assessment of all the flashing lights and posturing may be that all players, good and bad, are getting 'more ready' for a possible conflict, but don't want one," Gen. Baker stated.

The report quotes Army Gen. David H. Petraeus as recently telling the Senate Armed Services Committee: "My area of responsibility is Iraq so it doesn't go into Iran. Any military action outside of Iraq would be handled by Central Forces."

Intelligence order
The White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are putting the finishing touches on a new presidential directive that will govern all U.S. intelligence activities.

The current directive is 1981 Executive Order 12333 that governs U.S. intelligence activities and operations. That order was amended in 2004 to focus on better coordination and put greater emphasis on countering terrorism.

The new order, in the final stages of interagency coordination, will seek to further refine U.S. intelligence work in light of the creation of the new office of director of national intelligence, which replaced the dual-hatted CIA director and director of central intelligence roles.

The order is being shepherded by David R. Shedd, a career CIA officer who is the deputy director of national intelligence for policy, plans and requirements.

The DNI Web site stated that Mr. Shedd is directly involved in intelligence reform efforts that, according to a senior member of Congress, has been stifled by career intelligence bureaucrats who control the senior-most ranks of both the intelligence community and the policy community, such as former CIA Director Robert M. Gates, now the secretary of defense, and retired Adm. Michael McConnell, a former National Security Agency chief who is now director of national intelligence.

White House and DNI spokesmen had no comment.

Shaping perceptions
One reason China conducts military exchanges with the U.S. military is to boost its military capabilities and try to influence Pentagon "perceptions" of China, according to a Pentagon report to Congress.

"China's civilian and military leaders use defense contacts -- with the United States and other countries -- as avenues to communicate political messages on behalf of the Chinese government and shape perceptions of China among foreign leaders," the March 31 report by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England stated.

On military capabilities, the report said, the exchanges are used by Chinese military visitors to the U.S. to enhance their military doctrine, force structure and gain technology and technical information to boost the military buildup.

By contrast, the Pentagon seeks to "support the President's overall policy objectives regarding China" through military exchanges and "prevent conflict" by communicating U.S. resolve in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Pentagon also seeks to reduce the risk of "miscalculation" or conflict between the two militaries and also to increase understanding and reduce the secrecy of China's military.

A total of 48 military exchanges, including mostly official visits and some naval port calls, are scheduled for 2008, including a Chinese navy ship visit to the U.S.

The report shows that despite China's use of force to crack down on Tibetan protesters, there is no plan for the Bush administration to protest Chinese military repression by curtailing U.S. exchanges, unlike China, which last year cut nine exchange events to express opposition to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

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

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