The U.S. military is rolling out the red carpet across the country this week for a top Chinese military official, culminating in a visit to the Capitol – even as five Chinese military officers allegedly involved in high-profile cyber-attacks and targeted in a U.S. federal indictment remain free in China.
Gen. Fan Changlong, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, is leading a high-level military delegation that was scheduled to visit military installations in California, tour the USS Ronald Reagan and “observe soldiers” at the Army’s Fort Hood in Texas, Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters. Fan, described by the Pentagon as a “visiting guest” of U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, will meet with Carter at the Pentagon Thursday.
Friday Fan is expected to join U.S. Army Gen. Ray Odierno to sign a U.S.-China Army-to-Army Dialogue Mechanism (AADM) at the National Defense University.
The trip by Fan, who analysts say holds a position in the Chinese command structure just below President Xi Jinping roughly equivalent to the U.S. Secretary of Defense or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the “highest-level visit by a Chinese military leader” since 2012, according to a China Daily report posted on the Chinese military’s website. During his trip, Warren said Fan will be extended “all traditional customs and courtesies to the Secretary’s guest.”
But while Fan is touring the U.S., five Chinese military officers under indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice remain in China, “fugitives” far from the reach of U.S. authorities. Just over a year ago, the DOJ took an unprecedented step and unsealed charges against “five Chinese military hackers” for alleged hacking, economic espionage and “other offenses directed at six American victims in the U.S. nuclear power, metals and solar products industries.”
Five months after the indictment was unsealed, the U.S. officially declared the individuals “fugitives,” according to court documents.
U.S. officials have accused the Chinese government or military of being behind a string of cyber-attacks targeting the U.S. government, military and private industry in recent years. Most recently China was considered a prime suspect behind a cyber-attack that targeted the government’s Office of Personnel Management.
In that case, revealed last week, the personal information of as many as 4 million people, potentially including top current and former cabinet secretaries, is believed to have been stolen. U.S. lawmakers who were briefed on the hack said today the investigation into who conducted the attack and why is ongoing.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the allegations last week and said China would "hope the U.S. side would discard suspicions, refrain from making groundless accusations and show more trust and conduct more cooperation in this area."
Fan will also be meeting Carter face-to-face just two weeks after Carter publicly called out the Chinese government over its controversial “reclamation” of 2,000 acres of land in the contested South China Sea.
“The United States is deeply concerned about the pace and scope of land reclamation in the South China Sea, the prospect of militarization, as well as the potential for these activities… to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states,” Carter said in the keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore May 30. “With its actions in the South China Sea, China is out of step with both the international rules and norms that underscore the Asia-Pacific’s security architecture, and the regional consensus that favors diplomacy and opposes coercion.”
Mark Cozad, a Senior Defense Policy Analyst and Chinese specialist at the RAND Corporation, told ABC News that while U.S. and China’s top military officials certainly have much to talk about behind closed doors this week, it’s doubtful there will be any fruitful outcome on either the hacking allegations -- which China routinely flatly denies -- or the South China Sea controversy.
“I think it [the visit] is just about keeping the lines of communication open,” Cozad said. “The visit says something about the willingness, on the Chinese side, to be involved in these discussions.”