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US Beefs Up China Response

The next step in the China-American duet has been taken, with the administration declaring that it will send destroyers in to back up unarmed hydrographic ships sent to international waters within China's economic zone.

The Obama administration let this be known late Friday when the president met here in Washington with China's foreign minister, Yang Jiechi.

A former senior naval official said the Obama team made exactly the right move and showed "fortitude without being unnecessarily aggressive." And in an interesting twist, this official said he believes the Chinese questions about America's finances raised last week "are, in my, a direct response to the maritime issue. So now China awaits a reaction..."

This three-dimensional chess can get hard on the head so let's drill down a bit more on the maritime side of things.

It may be hard to believe but China and the US are parties to something called the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement. This was supposed to help the two sides avoid "misunderstandings" such as the recent series of what appear to be harassing actions by the Chinese intended to discourage the US Navy from performing highly classified -- but totally legal under international law - anti-submarine monitoring in international waters.

In fact, the People’s Republic of China and U.S. forces executed series of search-and-rescue exercises in late 2006 to increase the safety of sailors and airmen operating near each other. I asked Michael McDevitt, from the Center for Naval Analyses, if now was the right time to pursue talks with China to avoid a recurrence lf the recent fracas or if this would lose the US credibility in the region. McDevitt was speaking at an event put on by the Center for a New American Security Wednesday night to tout their newly released report on what strategy the new administration should follow in Asia.

He said the Chinese might well be open to more discussions but he worried that they might not be terribly fruitful since the Chinese had avoided discussing the exact type of events that occurred 75 miles from China's coast.

e U.S. and the PRC have established a Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) that has become the primary forum for the armed forces of the two countries to advance their common objectives of improved air and maritime safety.

And he noted that China has acted in exactly the manner in which it accuses the US of acting. "This is hardly the activity of a responsible stakeholder," he said, adding that he hoped countries in the region will note that China acted in a manner inconsistent with its claims of being uninterested in aggressive actions.

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