Rumsfeld to visit U.S. troops during stop in South Korea
ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will meet with U.S. troops in South Korea this week, senior defense officials said on Friday.
The trip is slated to kick off Monday morning when Rumsfeld leaves for China, officials said. He is also expected to visit Mongolia and Kazakhstan, officials told reporters Friday.
They declined to give specific information on when Rumsfeld would be in each country. It was also unknown Friday which troops Rumsfeld will meet with in South Korea.
The trip is Rumsfeld’s first to China as defense secretary, the officials said.
During the trip, Rumsfeld is scheduled to visit Chinese Strategic Rocket Forces.
Rumsfeld and Chinese officials are expected to discuss issues including six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program and humanitarian missions, such as the 2004 tsunami relief efforts, officials said.
Rumsfeld is not slated to visit Japan during the trip, officials said.
Officials said the decision to not visit Japan was unrelated to stalled force realignment talks between the United States and Japan
The two countries have been negotiating a repositioning of some of the 50,000 U.S. military personnel based in Japan, most of whom are stationed on Okinawa.
One official said Rumsfeld has a limited amount of time on this trip and the Defense Department decided against trying to “shoe- horn” in a visit to Japan.
Rumsfeld’s visit to China is “long overdue, very welcome, and hopefully will help to restore some trust and momentum to the U.S.-China military and strategic relationship,” said David Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University. “Yet the depth of distrust and misperceptions in both military establishments toward the other is palpable and not easily overcome.”
Beijing cut off military contacts with Washington in May 1999 after rejecting a U.S. government claim that the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, by a B-2 stealth bomber was an accident.
Relations were again ruptured abruptly in April 2001, just months after Rumsfeld took office, over the disputed circumstances in which a Chinese fighter jet collided in midair with a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane.
The Navy plane was so badly damaged that it made an emergency landing on China’s Hainan Island. The Chinese pilot died and the U.S. crew of 24 was detained by the Chinese military for 11 days.
China refused to allow U.S. officials to fix the Navy plane and fly it off the island; eventually it was shipped home in pieces.
Kurt Campbell, who was deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific affairs during the Clinton administration, said in an interview that Rumsfeld’s visit is a welcome change of approach for the Bush administration.
Some think Rumsfeld chose to go to China now because U.S. allies in Asia have expressed concern that the U.S. is preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the expense of developments in Asia.
“I think others might suggest he just ran out of excuses why he hasn’t gone” earlier, Campbell said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.