China's large-scale military buildup is being monitored closely and Beijing has not explained the goal of the modernization, senior defense and military leaders said yesterday.
"They clearly are making a significant investment in their military forces and in both strategic and tactical modernization," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters at the Pentagon.
Mr. Gates said the reason for an 18 percent increase in annual military spending that Beijing announced Saturday, a continuation of 15 years of double-digit increases, is not clear because of Chinese secrecy.
"I think that greater transparency would help from the standpoint of the Chinese in terms of both what they're doing, and what their strategies are, their intent in modernizing their forces," Mr. Gates said.
On Iraq, both Mr. Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said they were cautiously optimistic about stepped-up security operations in Baghdad.
"Our view is, so far so good," Mr. Gates said.
Gen. Pace said one result so far is a decline in violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims. On the down side, terrorist car bombings have increased, he said.
Mr. Gates said the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, has requested an additional 2,200 troops, mainly military police, for Iraq to deal with the anticipated detention of terrorists and insurgents captured during the stepped-up military operations in Baghdad.
Gen. Pace said it remains a "realistic goal" for U.S. forces to turn over responsibility for large areas to Iraqi military and security forces before the end of the year.
As for China, the Pentagon is concerned about a recent anti-satellite weapons test as well as submarine activities, Mr. Gates said.
Gen. Pace said the U.S. military must budget and develop forces to fight the war on terror and deal with any "potential adversaries" such as China.
"We need to make sure that the United States military's capable of handling any threat that might develop, without regard to current intent," Gen. Pace said.
Gen. Pace has suggested in the past that China is not a threat because it lacks intent to match its growing capability. His comments yesterday appeared to back away from those assessments.
Mr. Gates said he does not think that what China announced as its defense budget, reportedly the equivalent of $44 billion this year, represents the entire military spending plan.
China does not include foreign arms purchases or its space program, which is run by the military, in the defense budget. U.S. officials estimate that Chinese defense spending could be as high as $200 billion annually.
On Capitol Hill, Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee that despite a vigorous program of engagement, which he supports, the Chinese military continues to resist pressure for transparency about spending.
"We have a long way to go," he said of U.S. efforts to engage China's secretive military.
Asked about China's failure to explain the Jan. 11 anti-satellite weapon test, Adm. Fallon said the conflicting Chinese government response "demonstrates that there's a long way to go" for China to be a member of the "world body."
Chinese government officials in both Beijing and Washington failed to answer U.S. officials' questions about the anti-satellite weapon test, which contradicted China's public position that it opposes the deployment of weapons in space.