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19-04-06, 21:02
China’s military rise weighs on US

By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Published: April 19 2006 21:23 | Last updated: April 19 2006 21:23

When Chinese President Hu Jintao meets President George W. Bush at the White House on Thursday, much of the focus will be on trade issues. But lurking in the background are US concerns about the rise of the Chinese military and whether Beijing’s intentions are peaceful.

The Sino-US military relationship deteriorated in 2001 when a Chinese fighter jet and an American EP-3 spy aircraft collided off the Chinese coast. But in the three years following the September 11 attacks, Chinese co-operation in the “war on terror” – and the US preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan – appeared to push US concerns about its military expansion off the public radar.

Early last year, however, Pentagon and CIA officials started publicly raising concerns about the rapid growth in the Chinese military budget. A senior administration official said yesterday that some of those concerns would be raised during Mr Hu’s visit to Washington, although they would not feature prominently.

Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, rang alarm bells in China and other Asian countries last June when he addressed Asian defence ministers in Singapore with the question: “Since no nation threatens China, one wonders: why this growing investment?”

The Pentagon has released two reports over the past year that have outlined US fears that China is damaging the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region with its double-digit growth in defence spending. The Pentagon’s 2005 report on the Chinese military warned that Beijing was increasing its efforts to prepare for a conflict over Taiwan.

Earlier this year the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defence Review – an important military strategy document that outlines future threats – concluded that China had the “greatest potential to compete militarily” with the US. China responded angrily to the reports, saying its intentions were peaceful.

The US says it hopes China has good intentions, but that Washington must prepare for more hostile scenarios.

“Uncertainties about how China will use its power will lead the US . . . to hedge relations with China,” Robert Zoellick, deputy secretary of state, said last September.

Mike Pillsbury, an adviser to the Pentagon on China military issues, said: “President Hu needs to eliminate excessive Chinese military secrecy or else the other major powers will inevitably increase even further their hedges.” The senior administration official quoted earlier said the military discussions would focus on issues such as improving military exchanges, particularly of middle-ranked officers, and urging the Chinese to be more transparent about their military budget.

Peter Brookes, an Asia defence expert at the Heritage Foundation, said the US wanted more reciprocity in military exchanges, including more access to actual officers as opposed to intelligence agents. The US has also been pushing for a telephone hotline between the Pentagon and the People’s Liberation Army.

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