WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary William Cohen yesterday confirmed that aggressive Chinese fighter jocks have been buzzing U.S. aircraft for months, triggering a January complaint to Beijing officials.
Cohen’s statement, broadcast Thursday morning in a CNN interview, follows on the heels of WorldNetDaily’s report on Wednesday that Chinese pilots have been intercepting U.S. aircraft and testing ships in East Asia for the past year.
Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman says Congress was not informed of the provocations.
Did Cohen or any Pentagon brass brief Congress, including members of the Armed Services Committees, about the chronic buzzings?
“Not that I’m aware of, no,” deputy Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. Craig Quigley told WorldNetDaily.
Congressional aides have told WND that the Clinton administration cut the GOP Congress out of the loop to avoid criticism of its pro-China policy. Former President Clinton viewed the communist power as a “strategic partner,” and not a threat.
Cohen said the Chinese fighter jets came “within a matter of feet of reconnaissance aircraft,” like the one forced to land in Hainan, China, Sunday after being bumped by a Chinese fighter jet over international waters.
He said they “imposed a danger,” prompting him to lodge a “very strong protest” with Chinese officials.
Asked why Congress wasn’t briefed if Cohen felt so strongly about the buzzings, Quigley, a Clinton holdover, said: “We don’t automatically pick up the phone and tell a member of Congress.”
Quigley says the protest came in the form of a demarche — a line of action, or countermove, in diplomatic relations. He says the State Department wrote the demarche at the request of Cohen and filed it with the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“It was submitted to the foreign ministry in the form of a demarche from our State Department,” he said. “But the originator of the action was Secretary Cohen.”
A State Department spokesman, however, isn’t sure such a demarche went out.
“My understanding is the interceptor flights and acts of aggression were taken up in military discussions (between U.S. and Chinese officials) late last year at the working level,” said Dale Largent, a spokesman for the department’s East Asia bureau.
“That’s about all we have over here” concerning the issue, he added.
“I don’t know the exact route it took,” Quigley said of the protest. He also says he does not know when in January the demarche was sent to the foreign ministry.
Demarches are not public record, he added.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Navy and Air Force officials formally complained to political appointees in the Clinton administration, including the White House, about the Chinese buzzings in December of last year, after they got closer and closer to U.S. aircraft and ships in the region.
The buzzings first started in April 2000, sources say, but military personnel — sensitive to the White House’s pro-China policy — waited to complain.
Despite the December briefing, the Clinton administration withheld the information from Congress, sources say.
“The Clinton administration wanted to keep all this quiet, which they did,” a senior foreign-policy aide in the Senate said on the condition of anonymity. “They never told the Congress.”