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Retired US general: 'Engage China at every level'

By KONG WENZHENG in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-10-11 00:16

Bernard Loeffke, a retired US Army major general, signs his book China: Our Enemy?. The general believes that engaging China at all levels and building a strong relationship with it will benefit both countries.[Zhang Yuan/China Daily]

The first US Army general assigned to the US embassy in China called for the two nations to avoid confrontation and retain friendly relations in a recent open letter.

"We need to engage China at every level and build strong relations," wrote retired major general Bernard Loeffke in the Sept 27 letter dedicated to the 40th anniversary of normalization of the China-US relations.

Loeffke, who also was the first American to parachute with Chinese troops, wrote that he was concerned that US relations with China are "deteriorating". He urged both nations to "avoid going back to that era of confrontations", referring to the 1950s and '60s when the two engaged in major conflicts.

Loeffke's decades-long connection with China started in that period, as he himself was wounded during the Vietnam War. The US and China backed opposing sides in the conflict.

Thirty-four soldiers were killed and more than 200 wounded when Loeffke commanded a unit in the conflict that "should have never been fought", he wrote.

While that first contact — a more or less indirect one — with China might not have been pleasant, Loeffke wrote that his "perceptions changed" after he lived in China and dealt with Chinese at all levels.

His first visit was in 1973 — a year after US President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China that laid the foundation for the two nations to normalize diplomatic relations in 1979. Loeffke led a delegation of White House Fellows to China during his visit.

In 1982, he served as defense attache at the US embassy in China, and became the first American to jump with Chinese paratroopers in 1984.

In a previous interview with China Daily, he said the jump and the time he spent with the Chinese paratroopers created a bond between them that was difficult to replicate.

"I am worried that the animosity of some on both sides blinds us from seeing the good that can come from strong, friendly relations," wrote Loeffke, who for decades has been dedicated to building interpersonal ties between Chinese and Americans.

He initiated a Friendship Fund at the US Military Academy at West Point to send cadets to China for three weeks every summer. About 40 cadets have been engaged in the program so far.

"We were partners in WWII, and today we have millions of Chinese who are US citizens with children born here," he wrote, mentioning Peter Wang, a 15-year-old high school student who was killed while trying to help classmates escape from a gunman at the school in Florida last year. The teen was posthumously accepted to West Point.

While acknowledging that countries, including the US and China, are increasing their defense budgets, Loeffke said there are "other challenges that need our attention", notably climate change, pollution and epidemics.

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