Friday, May 05, 2006

China left out of US-hosted anti-terror meet

China left out of US-hosted anti-terror meet
By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. generals did not invite China to a meeting last week attended by 91 countries and aimed at boosting cooperation in the U.S.-declared global war on terrorism, the military said on Thursday.

China borders several hot spots, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is home to ethnic groups whose members have been detained by the United States as enemy combatants. President Bush has highlighted the importance of working with China in the post-September 11 world.

"We intend to deepen our cooperation in addressing threats to global security -- including the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, the violence unleashed by terrorists and extremists, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," Bush told President Hu Jintao of China at a White House welcoming ceremony April 20.

Five days later, more than 230 participants from 91 countries, met in Washington to compare notes on counterterrorism issues, without China, which the Pentagon calls a potential strategic competitor.

Among the 91 nations represented in the so-called Multilateral Planners Conference were traditional U.S. allies plus such countries as Albania, Tajikistan, Tonga and Djibouti, a member of the military joint staff said.

China was not invited "because the (U.S.) inter-agency coordination requirement and timeline didn't allow sufficient time to extend an invitation," Maj. Almarah Belk of the Air Force, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an e-mailed reply to a query from Reuters.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman did not respond to a request about whether China would have liked to attend.


The April 25-26 meeting was the fourth in a series held since May 2004 to bring together security planners from around the world.

A Feb 3. invitation to the session was sent to counterparts by Lt. Gen. Victor Renuart of the Air Force who, as the joint chief's director for strategic plans and policies, is the U.S. military's top strategist.

In the invitation, he described the forum as designed "to enhance our understanding of global and regional security environments and foster a common vision for confronting the challenges in the 21st century."

A copy of the invitation appears on the conference's Web site, Renuart said he hosted the conference on behalf of Gen. Peter Pace of the Marine Corps, chairman of the joint chiefs.

Twenty nations attended the conference for the first time, including Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Yemen, a member of the joint staff said.

Failing to include China was a mistake, said Kurt Campbell, a former Asia policy chief at the Pentagon, because fighting radical Islamic fundamentalism "is one area where we can and have worked well with China."

"The only U.S. agency that has difficulty clearing a meeting with China is the office of the secretary of defense," added Campbell, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

James Mulvenon, who runs a 15-member team of China analysts at the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, a group that consults for U.S. intelligence agencies, said leaving China out sends a wrong signal to the Chinese, "especially when we're trying to form a strategic relationship with them."

(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert)