Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates discussed China’s military buildup with Indian leaders in New Delhi on Wednesday and told reporters he wants talks with China on nuclear weapons, something Beijing has resisted.
Mr. Gates said after a meeting with Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony that the two leaders discussed China’s military modernization program and “what the intentions of that military buildup were.”
“There was a discussion about China’s military modernization program and what it meant,” he said.
The defense secretary then said that while he did not speak for the Indians, the Pentagon wants to engage China in more routine, in-depth strategic talks “so as to avoid any miscalculations or misunderstandings down the road.”
The Pentagon has held one meeting in recent months with China on its strategic nuclear weapons program, which remains shrouded in secrecy.
Efforts to hold more in-depth talks have been resisted by China, whose military views the Pentagon as its main potential enemy in a conflict over Taiwan. A defense official said Chinese military leaders fear that holding extensive nuclear talks would reveal secrets about its arms that could be used in nuclear targeting or cyberattacks.
China is building an array of new missile systems, including at least four systems that carry strategic nuclear warheads. They include the road-mobile DF-31 and DF-31A, the JL-2 submarine-launched missile and the long-range DH-10 land attack cruise missile.
U.S. intelligence officials have said little is known about the size of China’s nuclear arsenal, the conditions under which it would be used and who controls it.
Mr. Gates said his discussions with Indian leaders on China were not extensive but focused generally on the “common interest in security of the Indian Ocean and security of the global commons, and the global commons meaning the air, sea, space, and if you’re talking about the Internet, the ether, I suppose.”
Tensions between India and China have heightened in recent weeks as a result of incursions by Chinese troops and aircraft near a disputed border between the two countries.
Mr. Gates was asked about concerns on China’s cyberattack capabilities, which were highlighted recently by electronic strikes against Google and other U.S. companies in what many U.S. officials believe was a Chinese government-sanctioned strike.
On strategic nuclear talks with China, Mr. Gates said his past role in strategic nuclear talks with the Soviet Union were beneficial.
“I’m not sure those talks ever actually reduced any arms, but the dialogue over a long period of time with great candor about nuclear capabilities, thinking about nuclear options, thinking about how each side looked at nuclear weapons and at their military modernizations, I think played a significant role over time in preventing miscalculations and mistakes in the relationship between these two superpowers during the Cold War,” he said.
“I think that kind of a dialogue with China would be most productive and frankly in the best interests of global stability.”
Richard Fisher, a military affairs specialist with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said Mr. Gates’ comments are a sign the Obama administration is beginning to understand that China’s nuclear buildup is undermining their arms control policies.