The United States does not view China as a military threat at present but is concerned about the steady buildup of its army and its ballistic missile forces, a senior U.S. official said yesterday.
“Is there a threat of war between the United States and China?” said the official. “No. Not now. But right now doesn’t mean forever.
“China is modernizing its ballistic missiles, short- and long-range,” the official told reporters, and “the development of the People’s Liberation Army and its enhancement” is worrying to the United States.
The official was asked about reports from recent visitors to China that military leaders there do not believe the United States would risk American blood to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack from the mainland. China has long said it would attack if Taiwan were to declare independence.
“This administration has been extremely clear that we would take our responsibility under the Taiwan Relations Act seriously but not support an independent Taiwan,” the official said.
The Taiwan Relations Act obliges the United States to sell Taiwan sufficient weapons for its own defense.
The official was briefing diplomatic reporters as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell prepares to visit Beijing later this month. The Asia visit will include stopovers in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Australia.
Mr. Powell will discuss with China human rights, trade, security and other issues. He will also make preparations for Mr. Bush’s visit to China in October for a summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group in Shanghai and state visit to Beijing.
The U.S. official said that the United States hoped to get past recent problems in the U.S.-Chinese relationship, such as China’s 12-day detention of the crew of a U.S. surveillance plane that collided with a Chinese fighter and the arrests of Chinese-American academics.
He said of the jailed academics, “We don’t know with any precision what the charges are” against them and noted that American University scholar Gao Zhan “has yet to see a lawyer” to help in her defense.
“It’s awfully political,” said the U.S. official, and “it’s an obstacle to full and effective relations” between the United States and China.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin said before leaving Beijing on a trip to Russia yesterday that U.S.-Chinese relations were improving, despite China’s opposition to the Bush administration’s missile defense plan.
“I am optimistic about the future of Chinese-U.S. relations,” Mr. Jiang said in an interview carried jointly by Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency and ORT television from the Chinese capital.
“China-U.S. relations lived through a difficult period recently,” he said. “That situation was bad for China and the U.S., which we would like to avoid.
“Despite some differences, China and the U.S. have important common interests,” he said.
However, he repeated China’s objections to canceling the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and U.S. plans to construct a missile defense system.
“People fear that this will start another round of the arms race, including in outer space,” Mr. Jiang said.
The U.S. official said that North Korea has not yet responded to an American invitation to resume talks on missiles, conventional forces and the Agreed Framework that ended its nuclear weapons programs.
He noted that the freeze on U.S.-North Korean talks since the Bush administration came into office is paralleled by a “hiatus” in talks between North and South Korea.
He urged the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il, to respond to a visit last year by the South’s President Kim Dae-jung by paying a visit to Seoul.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.