Thursday, October 20, 2005

US 'concerned by China missiles'

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has expressed concern about China's growing missile capability.
Mr Rumsfeld was speaking on the final day of his trip to China before departing for South Korea.

In a speech, Mr Rumsfeld said China was expanding the reach of its ballistic missiles beyond the Pacific region to cover most of the world.

He also called on the Beijing government to be more open about its military spending.

"China of course is expanding its missile forces and enabling those forces to reach many areas of the world, well beyond the Pacific region.

"Those advances in China's strategic strike capability give cause for concern, particularly when there is an imperfect understanding among others about such developments," Mr Rumsfeld said.

"As a result, a number of countries with interests in the region are asking questions about China's intentions."

'No first strike'

During his talks with Chinese officials, Mr Rumsfeld was told that China would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict.

US officials said Gen Jing Zhiyuan made the remarks when Mr Rumsfeld paid an unprecedented visit to the headquarters of China's nuclear arsenal.

There have been concerns that China might use nuclear weapons if the US intervened in a conflict with Taiwan.

BBC Beijing correspondent Daniel Griffiths says Mr Rumsfeld has spent much of his first visit to China highlighting Washington's fears about Beijing's rising military power.

But he adds that despite these concerns, US officials say they have received positive signs from the normally secretive Chinese military.

On his first visit to China since taking office in 2001, Mr Rumsfeld met President Hu Jintao and Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan.

President Hu urged better military ties with the US.

In a meeting with Mr Rumsfeld, Mr Hu said that although the military relationship had improved in recent years, there was still room to expand.

They also discussed US President George W Bush's visit to Beijing in November and plans to increase military educational exchanges.

Spending downplayed

US officials said Mr Rumsfeld was the first foreigner to visit the Strategic Rocket Forces, at Qinghe outside Beijing, and that previous requests to go there had always been denied.

He was given a briefing on the command's structure and training, but not given details about missile numbers.

Gen Jing, quoted by US officials, denied that Chinese missiles were targeting any country.

He also appeared to disavow a statement in June by Gen Zhu Chengzhu that China would have to respond with nuclear weapons if targeted by US forces in a crisis over Taiwan.

During his visit, Mr Rumsfeld has repeatedly questioned China's military spending.

China's official military budget is this year set to be $30bn, but the Pentagon said in June that the real figure was $90bn.

China has consistently increased its defence spending since the 1990s, but Chinese officials say the increase is needed to modernise its armed forces and pay better salaries.

China also says its budget is dwarfed by US military spending, which last year totalled $440bn.

$440 billion? That's insane.