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U.S., China Plan Joint Naval Exercises


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.



I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, Alex talks with the director of a powerful new documentary film, Iraq in Fragments. The film tracks the lives of ordinary Iraqis during the U.S. occupation.

CHADWICK: First, this weekend, the U.S. and China conduct joint naval exercises in the South China Sea. As political and economic ties between the two nations have grown in recent years, so have military contacts. Both countries are building their naval forces in the Western Pacific and both are wondering about the other's intentions.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn filed this report from southern China.

ANTHONY KUHN: It's the first time China's current government has granted a U.S. warship access to an exclusively military port. On Wednesday, the amphibious assault ship USS Juneau docked at a Chinese naval base in the southern city of Zhanjiang. U.S. Marines and sailors stood at attention on deck, facing a Chinese Navy band on the pier. On Sunday, ships from the two navies will simulate a search-and-rescue mission at sea.


The deputy commander of China's South Sea Fleet, Admiral Lin Yenching(ph), addressed the gathering.

Admiral LIN YENCHING (South Sea Fleet): (Speaking Chinese)

KHUN: He said that the current round of exchanges showed a clear trend towards increased cooperation between the two navies. He called the variety of activity scheduled for the visit a breakthrough.

Standing beside Admiral Lin was the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, four-star Admiral Gary Roughead. He came from Pearl Harbor for the event. In an interview, Admiral Roughead said exchanges had picked up speed in the past year.

Admiral GARY ROUGHEAD (Commander, U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet): We have agreed to a set of standard communication protocols, a series of exercises, all aimed at building transparency, trust, and quite frankly, common operating procedures, because it really is about being able to talk to PLA Navy ships on the high seas when we encounter one another.

KHUN: One recent encounter took place on October 26th, when a Chinese submarine evaded detection until it got within firing range of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. Admiral Roughead pointed out that the ships were in international waters and they both had the right to be there.

Below deck on the Juneau, the crew prepared to host Chinese sailors and journalists. Chief Petty Officer Gary Bolds(ph) showed visitors arrays of video monitors in the combat information center.

Mr. GARY BOLDS (U.S. Navy): In the combat information center we maintain a navigational plot via radar. We correlate with the bridge team on navigation. They use their visual, and of course we use radar.

KHUN: U.S. critics of the exchanges argue that by showing China its warships and military exercises, the U.S. has helped China to modernize its military while giving the U.S. little insight into that modernization. Advocates of the exchanges say the personal contacts the two sides build now may prove useful in future emergencies.

On the Juneau's deck, a young ensign named Reginald Cruz(ph) admits he knows little about his Chinese counterparts, but he's eager to learn.

Mr. REGINALD CRUZ (U.S. Navy): I don't know. I just want to - I just want to go there, have a good time, make some connections, and get to know how they live their life and it's similar to ours - operations-wise, going out, family, pretty much the whole spectrum of navy life, actually.

KHUN: Other advocates say that exposure to the U.S. Navy will encourage the Chinese to make their military more professional. Admiral Roughead remembers back in 1997 when he took Vice Admiral Hup Humfeh(ph), then deputy chief of the Chinese Navy, aboard his Aegis missile cruiser.

Admiral ROUGHEAD: What really struck me about Admiral Hup was he realized that it's not the equipment. It's the people. And he took every possible opportunity to meet my sailors. He was struck by the amount of initiative we allow our people to exercise.

KHUN: The reach of China's Navy continues to grow far beyond its shores, as it buys Russian destroyers and submarines and builds warships of its own. Yet China is unhappy when other countries label its military build-up a threat. Yu Maochun teaches Chinese military history at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Mr. YU MAOCHUN (U.S. Naval Academy): I would say that the biggest contributing factor to that China threat - feeling outside of China - is China's lack of military transparency.

KHUN: Yu and other analysts say that getting China's military to open up will take patience, and it remains to be seen who will glean more information from or have more influence over whom.

Anthony Khun, NPR News, Zhanjiang, China. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.