Return to

June 19, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

China's government recently asked the Bush administration to waive sanctions that bar the export of military spare parts for Beijing's U.S.-made Black Hawk helicopters, aircraft purchased during the 1980s and now being used by China's military for earthquake relief efforts in Sichuan province.

A White House spokesman, however, said he is unaware that the president is considering a waiver on the restrictions imposed on the helicopter parts transfers after the 1989 military crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

China's government made the request for the helicopter parts after the Bush administration offered assistance to China in the aftermath of last month's deadly earthquake.

The helicopter parts waiver was last raised publicly in 1996, when the Clinton administration considered but then rejected transferring the Sikorsky-made helicopter through a presidential waiver.

China purchased 24 Black Hawks in the mid-1980s when ties between the two governments were warmer, but has had trouble keeping the aircraft flying because of the embargo. All military sales were cut off by Congress after China's use of military troops against unarmed protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

In an apparent effort to bolster the Chinese diplomatic request, recent state-run news video and photographs from China showed several of the Chinese Black Hawks airlifting people and supplies from the Sichuan quake zone, even though most of China's military helicopters are Russian-made M-17s.

U.S. officials declined to provide details on the Chinese waiver request because of concerns about discussing diplomatic exchanges but confirmed that the request was made.

One reason many administration national-security officials oppose a waiver is it would undermine U.S. law-enforcement efforts. In recent years, Chinese agents made several attempts to illegally acquire Black Hawk parts in the United States.

Photo from Chinese Internet via China has asked the Bush administration to waive export restrictions on the transfer of military spare parts for China's U.S.-made Black Hawk helicopters, like this one used in earthquake relief efforts in Sichuan province.

A former military intelligence official said the Chinese in the past have used retired U.S. generals to lobby for lifting the restrictions on Black Hawk spare parts. Specifically, a 1996 lobbying effort was blocked after military intelligence obtained a photograph of a Chinese Black Hawk that had been sold on the condition that it not be used for combat, outfitted with a 133-millimeter canon used during a military exercise simulating an invasion of Taiwan.

The photo "stopped the U.S. generals and the embassy short" in the effort to waive parts export restrictions, the former official said.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Former Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury revealed Wednesday that China's concept of deterrence includes the use of military forces in a "warning strike."

Mr. Pillsbury, a China military specialist, stated during a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation that he has identified a dozen flash points around the world where China's military and political leaders would allow "raw nerves" to trump rationale and attack a neighboring state without warning, as it did in the past in Korea, India and Vietnam and along the Russian border.

"The lesson China has learned when it uses a major warning strike is that it works," Mr. Pillsbury said, noting that in the four earlier cases there was little or no response from those attacked.

Mr. Pillsbury said a "consistent" U.S. military exchange program with China is needed to help reduce the chances of China launching such military strikes by mistake.

While the risk of a future military miscalculation by China is low, the danger is compounded by excessive Chinese secrecy about its strategic goals, he said.a Areas where China could carry out surprise pre-emptive deterrent strikes include an attack on Japan over disrupted undersea oil drilling, or against India over another border dispute. Burma and South Korea also could be targets of Chinese deterrent strikes, if China's unknown strategic red lines are crossed by its perceived enemies.

A blue-ribbon panel that conducted a review of the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, or DTRA, found that the office set up to counter weapons of mass destruction needs more money and a strategic plan.

The review panel was headed by former Assistant Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, now at Harvard University, and former Undersecretary of State for International Security Robert Joseph, now with the National Institute for Public Policy.

"DTRA has done much to advance national and international combating WMD missions, with the resources available," the report concluded. "However, it requires substantially more budgetary resources and senior-level support to realize its full potential in helping [the Defense Department] and the U.S. government to confront the WMD threats of today and tomorrow."

The report called for the Pentagon to provide more senior-level backing for the agency and the formulation of a "detailed strategic plan for combating WMD."

"The plan without the commitment would be hollow," the report said. "The plan combined with the commitment would allow the recommendations for [Defense Department] combating WMD activities - including those in this report - to be operationalized in an ambitious, but realistic fashion."

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, wrote to President Bush last week expressing Congress' concerns about U.S. exports of sensitive technology to China for Olympic Games security.

Mr. McCotter stated that although the protection of Olympic athletes is important, "the transfer of sensitive equipment and technology to communist China has raised concerns on Capitol Hill."

U.S. transfers of explosive detection equipment, X-ray equipment and other embargoed goods was first disclosed by The Washington Times.

"Given communist China's massive military buildup, lack of military transparency, continued espionage to acquire U.S. defense intelligence, and history of proliferating weapons and weapons-related technology, it is important that this recent transaction receive congressional oversight," Mr. McCotter stated in the June 12 letter.

Mr. McCotter also said the security equipment transfers could pose "a profound moral problem" if China uses U.S. advanced technology "to repress the Chinese people in the name of security."

Inside the Ring Archives
1999 Columns
2000 Columns
2001 Columns

2002 Columns
2003 Columns
2004 Columns
2005 Columns
2006 Columns
2007 Columns
2008 Columns
Return to