China’s defense minister and a delegation of military officials will visit sensitive U.S. military facilities this week, raising fresh concerns that the Pentagon may not be fully abiding by a 2000 law restricting Chinese military visits.
Asked about security concerns related to the large delegation of Chinese military officials, Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the visit "was given a thorough security and policy review to ensure compliance with U.S. laws and department policy."
"The delegation is not stopping at any location that has not been appropriately cleared for this visit," she said.
But a defense official close to the visit said the arrival of Chinese Minister of Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie and a large delegation raises concerns among some in the Pentagon about whether the Obama administration is violating the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act provisions that prohibit showing Chinese military visitors key facilities that could boost Beijing’s growing military power.
Section 1201 of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2000 prohibits military exchanges with China that would "create a national security risk due to an inappropriate exposure" of 12 areas.
They include force projection operations, nuclear operations, advanced combined-arms and joint combat operations, and advanced logistical operations.
Other areas include a ban on viewing chemical and biological defense and other capabilities related to weapons of mass destruction, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, joint war-fighting experiments, and other activities related to a transformation in warfare.
Additional proscribed activities for Chinese military visits include a ban on any facilities involved in military space operations, other advanced military capabilities, arms sales or military-related technology transfers, and anything involving the release of classified or restricted information. Pentagon laboratories are also out of bounds.
The Chinese military visit comes amid growing tension between China and the Philippines over who owns a group of disputed islets in the South China Sea.
China’s state-run news media in recent days was filled with stories urging China to take action against the Philippines for arresting Chinese fishermen who violated what Manila said were its territorial waters.
Liang's visit also comes two weeks after North Korea showed off six Chinese-made mobile strategic missile launchers during a military parade in Pyongyang April 15. The launcher transfer raises new questions about Beijing's arms proliferation to rogue states.
Liang arrived in San Francisco on Friday and visited Naval Amphibious Base Coronado near San Diego, where he took a tour of a Navy destroyer under what the Pentagon said was an effort to show U.S. "counter-piracy capabilities."
Liang also visited an advanced Navy ship-driving simulator.
He is scheduled to meet Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday and will have dinner with the secretary.
Other stops on the Chinese military visit include a stop at the U.S. Southern Command "to discuss best practices in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," a defense official said.
The Chinese military group will also travel to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for a meeting with Marines.
Liang and the Chinese military also will visit Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, where they will be shown F-15E jet training.
The last stop will be the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Richard Fisher, a China military affairs specialist, said giving the Chinese military access to U.S. landing craft and the F-15E Strike Eagle during the visit presents the most concern, considering restrictions that forbid helping the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to develop offensive capabilities.
"If the landing craft in question is a U.S. Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion or LCAC amphibious assault hovercraft, then it would be most unwise to let Gen. Liang and his entourage pore over this vessel and ask many questions," Fisher said.
"The PLA has just started operating their LCAC from their new Type 071 Landing Platform Dock (LPD) amphibious assault ship, and I suspect they would dearly appreciate some insights into our LCAC operations."
China has purchased troop transport air cushion naval ships from Ukraine.
Fisher said "in 2012 we should have much more concern that the PLA will use its LCACs to attack our ally the Philippines rather than to join the U.S. in rescue operations."
Regarding the visit to F-15 jet training, "The PLA has plenty of opportunities to see them from the outside at airshows in the United States and overseas," Fisher said. "It is very hard to conceptualize how a F-15E unit visit fits in with the ‘disaster relief cooperation’ theme for this visit."
The United States has honed the use of the F-15 in nearly every major conflict since the late 1980s, Fisher said. As a result, "the PLA would dearly appreciate any pointers on how to better use its Su-30MKK, JH-7A, and J-16 strike fighters against Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines."
Chinese military visits in the past have prompted concerns in Congress that new restrictions are needed to prevent China from gaining valuable war-fighting information during the meetings.
By contrast, U.S. military visits in China nearly always seek to show outdated or obsolete weapons systems as part of the PLA’s propaganda effort to play down the threat of its large-scale military buildup.
China’s military also refused to discuss details about its major strategic nuclear modernization program or its active anti-satellite warfare program.