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The New York Times
19-10-05, 10:27
The New York Times

October 19, 2005

Rumsfeld Warns Young Chinese on Isolationism


BEIJING, Wednesday, Oct. 19 - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld urged the next generation of China's Communist leadership on Wednesday to become "a major player" in the global economy by taking steps to strengthen the system and not just reap the financial rewards, and he warned against erecting "another type of Great Wall" restricting free expression and choice.

In a speech to mid-career Communist Party officials preparing for senior leadership positions, Mr. Rumsfeld also criticized Beijing's military expansion, saying it had prompted "questions whether China will make the right choices - choices that will serve the world's real interests in regional peace and stability."

Mr. Rumsfeld delivered carefully phrased comments that balanced an invitation to build a political, economic and security partnership with the United States against a complaint that China hides its increases in military spending and has not explained a worrisome arms buildup.

The chance to deliver the message to the Central Party School, which serves as the Communist Party's ideological research institute and as the main training program for cadres slated for senior posts, was requested by the Pentagon, clearly indicating that Mr. Rumsfeld wanted these future leaders to hear a senior American official say that China's future remains undetermined and that the course of this Asian giant is in their hands.

"Every society has to be vigilant against another type of Great Wall that can be a burden on man's talents and is born from a fear of them - a wall that limits speech, information and choices," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

The secretary said history proved that it is impossible to isolate any population forever and that information seeps through. "And when those inside that wall glean insights about the world that they discover are notably different from what they have been taught and led to believe, the effect can prove dramatic," he cautioned.

Beijing still may stumble as it steps up to a larger role in global affairs because of its military expansion, Mr. Rumsfeld said, and "a growth in China's power-projection understandably leads other nations to question China's intentions - and to adjust their behavior in some fashion."

Despite this grim reminder, Mr. Rumsfeld's comments struck a tone noticeably less severe than did his June address on Asian security, delivered in Singapore, which was criticized by Chinese delegates as an attack on Beijing's right to defend its national interests.

In many ways, Mr. Rumsfeld personifies the United States-China relationship, which he described as "a complex one, with its share of challenges."

While the secretary has been the Bush administration's most energetic member in sounding the alarm over Chinese military power, he also once placed a personal bet on the growth of the Chinese economy and on its important role in global finance. Personal disclosure forms filed in 2001 after his nomination as President Bush's defense secretary showed that Mr. Rumsfeld once invested as much as $500,000 in a venture capital fund in Shanghai that focused on China's budding Internet market.

"China, with its rapid economic growth and many new trading partners, is a major player in that multinational system and, as such, must increasingly take a share of responsibility for the international system's health and success," he said. "Indeed, in an era of increasing globalization, threats such as nuclear proliferation, terrorism and infectious diseases are transnational in nature, and require cooperative efforts."

But he criticized any move by China within that multinational framework to create regional institutions that exclude other Pacific Rim countries - especially the United States.

During his visit to China, which comes ahead of a trip here by Mr. Bush next month, Mr. Rumsfeld is to meet with President Hu Jintao and the nation's defense minister, Gen. Cao Gangchuan.

Coverage of the American's visit in the Chinese news media has included special sections headlined, "Rumsfeld Visits China." Articles so far included biographical sketches, with descriptions of his college wrestling career, and statements like, "During the cold war, he was a cold-blooded soldier; now he makes the American military plan."

Mr. Rumsfeld's staff had requested that he be allowed to visit the Western Hills military complex outside Beijing, described as China's Pentagon, but the request was denied by the Chinese government. "It tells something about them," he said of the decision.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who first visited China in 1974 while serving as chief of staff to former President Gerald R. Ford, is nonetheless scheduled to be the first American defense secretary to visit the headquarters of China's strategic missile fleet, later Wednesday.

In comments en route to Beijing, Mr. Rumsfeld said he would probably have visited China sooner in his current job had military-to-military ties not been ruptured by the collision between a Navy surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet on April 1, 2001, in international airspace over the South China Sea. The crash caused the death of a Chinese pilot and the detention of the 24-member American crew for 11 days after the aircraft made an emergency landing on Hainan Island.

Chinese officials are no doubt waiting to see whether the messages Mr. Rumsfeld delivers here are the same ones he delivered long-distance at the Singapore conference, when he sternly warned Beijing that its military spending was viewed as threatening a delicate security balance.

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company