An embarrassed U.S. Defense Department on Wednesday reversed an order issued by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office which had mistakenly suspended American military ties with China.
A Pentagon spokesman said the order, signed two days ago by a Rumsfeld deputy and announced late on Wednesday, had "misinterpreted" Rumsfeld's intention to subject modest bilateral ties such as ship visits and military personnel exchanges with Beijing to a case-by-case review.
The mistake was admitted as chill relations continued between the two countries over Beijing's refusal so far to return a crippled U.S. Navy EP-3E spy plane held in China since its April 1 mid-air collision with a Chinese jet fighter.
"The memo called for a suspension of the military-to-military program until further notice. That is not his (Rumsfeld's) intention," Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters only two hours after the "suspension" order was announced.
"The secretary's intention is to bring all proposed interaction for the China military-to-military (relations) to the Department of the Secretary of Defense staff level for individual, case-by-case review and approval," the embarrassed admiral said in a hastily called meeting with reporters.
REVERSES TERSE MEMO
Another Pentagon spokesman, reading from the mistaken memo based on Rumsfeld's orders, had earlier said in a terse statement that all of the modest military ties between the two countries had been suspended.
The order was signed on Monday and issued to the military services by Christopher Williams, special assistant to the secretary for policy matters. But Quigley said it had simply misrepresented Rumsfeld's intention to be more careful about such ties.
Although the U.S. military services were told of the order on Monday, no formal notification was ever sent to China, defense officials said.
Beijing, which earlier delayed the return of the EP-3E reconnaissance plane's 24-member crew to the United States, has so far refused to give back the aircraft. But it allowed a team of technical experts from the United States to inspect the damage to the aircraft on Wednesday.
Beijing has demanded that the United States halt all reconnaissance flights in international air space near China. The United States has refused.
MODEST TIES RESTORED
Defense officials said that while military-to-military programs between Washington and Beijing were very modest, the memo signed on Monday had in effect briefly suspended ties which normally range from military ship visits to exchanges of visits by military officers.
The United States and China are still negotiating over a proposed meeting of their bilateral Military Maritime Consultative Commission to discuss return of the aircraft.
The United States has proposed several tentative dates for the meeting.
The Pentagon announced on Tuesday that the "Made in China" label would not be welcome in the U.S. Army as it outfits about half a million troops with new black berets.
It said that the Army's top general has determined that U.S. troops would not wear berets made in China or berets made with Chinese content.
The Army said it was recalling previously distributed berets, received from China this year, and would dispose of them.
The announcement followed not only the spy plane tension, but criticism from Congress of the Defense Department's decision to let contracts totaling $27 million go to companies in China and elsewhere to make the black caps, instead of to American firms.