U.S. Military Hot Line with China Likely Soon

Other News Materials 1 March 2008 03:23 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - The U.S. and China aim to set up a telephone hot line between their militaries within a month after an agreement signed Feb. 29, the U.S. defense department said.

The deal was signed in Shanghai alongside a deal giving the U.S. access to China's military archives to search for missing servicemen from the Korean War and other conflicts, the official said.

"We welcome this important step forward in enhancing communication between our militaries," according to a U.S. defense department statement.

"The (hot line) will be a useful tool to make contact quickly, clarify issues and avoid miscalculations."

It added that the agreement allowed the two sides to move forward on installing the equipment over the next few weeks, meaning the hot line would probably become operational within a month.

A U.S. defense department official told AFP the signing ceremonies took place at noon. The official could not comment further, but more details were expected at a briefing in Shanghai on March 1.

The military hot line was first floated by the U.S. in 2003, and U.S. President George W. Bush reached agreement on the link when meeting his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao at a regional forum in Sydney in September.

The two nations discussed the issue further in November last year when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Beijing.

In November, the two sides agreed to expand educational exchanges and military cooperation through a number of other methods, including joint naval exercises.

The line will be China's first direct military telephone link with another country.

U.S. and Chinese heads of state have been able to communicate over a similar hot line since the late 1990s.

In 2004, a direct telephone link was set up between the U.S. secretary of state and the Chinese foreign minister.

In the other agreement on Feb. 29, U.S. officials will be allowed access to some of China's military archives to help in the search for thousands of servicemen who went missing in conflicts since World War II.

The U.S. thinks those records could help determine the fate of American servicemen who died in captivity, said Charles Ray, deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs.

The Korean War is especially important because China entered the conflict on North Korea's side in 1950 and ran many POW camps.

"The two militaries, through friendly consultation, have reached the following arrangement to develop military archives cooperation to search for information relating to U.S. military personnel missing in action before, during and after the Korean War," he said.

More than 33,000 U.S. troops were killed during the Korean War, while about 8,100 are still listed as missing in action.