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A U.S. - China Hotline Coming

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U.S. and Chinese officials are expected to finalize arrangements in September for a hotline communications link between the Pentagon and Chinas Ministry of Defense. Lieutenant General Zhang Qinsheng, the deputy chief of General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, is planning to attend a meeting in Washington, D.C., in September to complete arrangements for the link.

At a recent conference of Pacific defense leaders in Singapore, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, I think it's an important start," and, referring to the conference, "There has clearly been greater transparency on the part of the Chinese."

There have been major concerns voiced in the United States about Chinese military activities and programs, beginning in 2001 when a Chinese fighter and a U.S. Navy electronic reconnaissance aircraft collided over international waters off the coast of China. Details of the communications link have not been made public. However, like the original U.S.-Russia hotline, the U.S.-China link will probably be a form of teletype in its initial installation.

That hotline was established in 1963 in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The Washington-Moscow hotline, installed in the Pentagon and the Soviet MOD buildings -- not the White House and Kremlin -- were initially hard-wire (cable) connected teletypes. As established, the sending nations leaders would compose the message in their native language and translate it for transmission.

While most films -- notably Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe -- show the U.S. president and Soviet leader speaking by voice phone, at that time there was only the teletype link. The hotline was first used by U.S. and Soviet leaders in 1967 during the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, when U.S. and Soviet warships were operating in the Mediterranean and the leaders wished to avoid an accidental confrontation.

An accord signed in 1971 provided for hotline upgrades, including an accompanying voice telephone and satellite links. The U.S.-Soviet hotline links remain in service today, being continually tested and ready for immediate use.

-- Norman Polmar

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