Military Plans Spark Concern

But China insists its military modernization program doesn't threaten other countries.

2011.01.10
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china-military-gates-305.jpg US Defense Secretary Robert Gates (L) and Vice Chairman of China's Central Military Commission General Xu Caihou (R) hold talks in Beijing, Jan. 10, 2011.
AFP

China's rapid military development in recent years has sparked concern in Washington, with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates calling for increased military dialog during his visit this week to Beijing.

"There are many areas where we have mutual interests and can work together," Gates told a joint news conference on Monday with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie.

"In those areas [where] we have disagreements, those disagreements are best dealt with through constant dialog and discussion with one another and transparency," he said.

Speaking ahead of a state visit to the United States by Chinese president Hu Jintao next week, Liang also appeared to move to calm fears that China is a potential military rival to U.S. power.

"China's military hardware development is targeting no other countries and poses no threat," Liang was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency in response to a question about Washington's military engagement in the region.

Liang said China has "developed weapons to meet its sovereignty and security requirements," the agency said.

Cooling ties

The visit comes after a cooling of military ties following the sale of a U.S. $6.4-billion U.S. arms package to Taiwan in January 2010, and amid signs that China's military spending will soon rise sharply.

The official newspaper of China's elite Chinese Communist Party school, the Study Times, recently estimated that defense spending would soon rise to take up between 2.6 percent and 2.8 percent of the economy, compared with just 1.5 percent now.

Beijing, which does not make public details of its defense spending, cut off military contacts with Washington in protest at the Taiwan arms deal.

Yang Dali, political science professor at the University of Chicago, said that the entire U.S. military establishment had wanted to improve dialog with the Chinese since then.

"Of course that is in part to prevent an escalation in military tensions, but another aspect to it is that both sides want to establish a framework of mutual trust," Yang said.

But he said Gates' visit paved the way for the meeting next week between Presidents Hu and Obama.

"Right now, ahead of the forthcoming leaders' summit, the visit of the defense secretary is aimed at making progress with an environment in which bilateral ties can improve," he said.

"President Hu will still be looking to emphasize the peaceful rise of China and its overall strategy of peaceful development."

'Lopsided strategy'?

While the United States has invested heavily in closer ties and military cooperation with some of China's smaller neighbors in recent months, including South Korea and Vietnam, Washington wouldn't be served by a lopsided strategy in the region, Yang added.

"The U.S. must, at the same time as it builds relations with China's neighbors, also build relations with China itself. This isn't really a question of surrounding China," Yang said.

U.S.-based China analyst and retired Toledo University professor Ran Bogong said that the rapid pace of China's military modernization in recent years has sparked fears about Beijing's military ambitions.

"They don't know what China's military plans are, and what its development strategy is, or how far along China has got in its weapons development goals, and especially what its strategy will be with regard to the U.S.," Ran said.

"So the U.S. is very keen to have a military dialog with China, to have channels of communication, so as to further its understanding of China's military modernization."

Beijing officials are equally keen to squash the image of Beijing as the next emerging military power to replace the Soviet Union, he said.

"Beijing understands that the U.S. military is far more advanced than its own and believes that the U.S. regards China as a potential enemy," Ran said.

But he said China's military modernization would continue regardless, "even if the U.S. says one more time that it doesn't regard China as an enemy," he said.

Official media published pictures purporting to be of a Chinese-made stealth bomber ahead of Gates' visit. But the Pentagon has said that Beijing's home-grown stealth aircraft is "years away."

Analysts quoted in official Chinese media said improved military ties are crucial to a good bilateral relationship.

Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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