The Defense Department accidentally complicated an already tense relationship with China Wednesday as a leaked internal memorandum stated that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had suspended all contacts with the Chinese military. Hours later, the Pentagon retracted the memo, calling it a misunderstanding.
Sent Monday from Rumsfeld's office to senior Pentagon officials, the memo said he was ordering "the suspension of all Department of Defense programs, contacts and activities with the People's Republic of China until further notice."
Hours after the memo leaked and was reported worldwide by U.S. news organizations, a spokesman for Rumsfeld, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, said it was a mistake. In the interim, Quigley and other officials had struggled to explain the move, which also appeared to catch the White House by surprise.
Quigley told reporters that the unnamed Rumsfeld aide who wrote the memo had "misinterpreted the secretary's intentions" by declaring a suspension of military-to-military relations.
"[Rumsfeld's] actual intention is for all elements of the military-to-military program to be reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis by the Department of Defense," Quigley said, adding that the Secretary had not seen the memo before it was sent to the military service secretaries, the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior civilian officials in the Pentagon.
Several officials told reporters that they understood the order to have taken effect Monday, the day it was distributed inside the Pentagon. Later, Quigley said that a corrected version would be sent to make clear that military-to-military ties were not suspended.