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U.S. backtracks on China military ties memo


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Hasty clarification

Strained relations

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Pentagon memo ordering a halt to all U.S. military "programs, contacts and activities" with China was sent in error, agency officials said Wednesday.

The announcement came shortly after the U.S. Defense Department document was leaked to the news media.

The leaked memo went out Monday to the armed services, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other Defense Department official.


Pentagon officials said a senior aide, who wrote the memo, misinterpreted orders from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

In fact, according to the Pentagon, Rumsfeld meant to say he wanted a case-by-case review of contacts with China while the U.S. continues to negotiate over the return of the EP-3 surveillance aircraft.

The spy plane was forced to land in China after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet.

Hasty clarification

In a hastily drafted clarification, the Pentagon said: "The secretary's guidance requires that all DoD [Department of Defense] programs, contacts and activities with the People's Republic of China will be reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis."

The statement did not specify how such an important policy-changing memo could have been sent out without the secretary first approving it or reviewing its content.

In the retracted Pentagon memo, Rumsfeld was quoted as directing the "suspension of all Department of Defense programs, contacts and activities with the People's Republic of China until further notice."

The strict ban mentioned in the memo covered virtually everything, including working meetings and social contacts with Chinese officials both in China and at the Chinese embassy in Washington.

However, the ban didn't apply to Hong Kong.

Strained relations

The halt also was to apply to Navy port visits at Chinese cities, and to planned search missions for servicemen missing in action in China since World War II.

The error comes at a time of increasingly strained U.S.-Sino relations following the spy plane standoff.

China has strongly objected to the recent U.S. arms deal with Taiwan.

Also, the United States said on Tuesday that 600,000 black berets for the U.S. Army won't be made in China. That earlier deal outraged service members and legislators.

The damaged spy plane has been on the tarmac at an airfield on the Chinese island of Hainan since April 1.

The aircraft made an emergency landing there after a collision with a Chinese fighter, which resulted in the death of the Chinese pilot.

Pentagon officials said a U.S. inspection team gained access to the plane Wednesday, but it is still not clear whether the plane can fly back to the United States.

Chinese officials have not said whether they will release the $80 million-plus plane.

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U.S. Department of Defense
 • Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
Government Information Office, Republic of China

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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