The United States needs to keep a strong military presence in Asia to deter any future threats from China, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday.
“I never believed that weakness was your first choice,” he said during an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times in his office suite at the Pentagon. “I have always felt that weakness is provocative, that it kind of invites people to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t think about doing.
“To those who would argue that the United States should be something other than strong, and capable of contributing to the peace and stability in the world, I would argue that history says the contrary,” he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said communist China is facing an uncertain future as it tries to balance economic reform with its political dictatorship.
“My view of China is that its future is not written, and it is being written,” he said.
The defense secretary also revealed some of the internal discussions under way regarding the Pentagon’s new military strategy for Asia, which is being drawn up by Andrew Marshall, the Pentagon’s top strategic planner.
He said plans to shift the focus toward preparing for military operations in Asia do not diminish the importance of other regions, like Europe or the Persian Gulf.
The new strategy will seek to recognize that “Asia is different from Europe in terms of distances, in terms of the kind of countries that are there, and the nature of the political and economic systems,” he said.
To deal with future military challenges in Asia, the Pentagon needs different capabilities “in the first instance, for the purpose of deterring, and in the second instance, for the purpose of prevailing” in a conflict, Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Defense officials said the strategy for Asia will involve moving more naval and air forces closer to the continent to be ready to deal with conflicts in Taiwan or North Korea.
The strategy also is likely to call for fewer land forces because of the wide expanses of the Pacific Ocean and the difficulty of rapidly moving heavy armored divisions long distances.
The overall strategy will involve a force structure to meet short-term threats, like Iraq or North Korea, and to meet mid- and longer-term problems that require developing military capabilities, he said.
Regarding the buildup of China’s missile forces, Mr. Rumsfeld said it was “not surprising” as missiles are becoming a weapon of choice for many nations.
China has decided its missile force, which includes weapons of various ranges, is “important for their view of themselves to be the factor in the region, and they are making significant investments in not just in immediate capabilities, but they’re making significant investment in future capabilities.”
In addition to missiles, the Chinese are investing in information warfare technologies and “intelligence activities,” he said.
“They’re looking at things that are not being looked at by a lot of other countries in the world,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, without elaborating.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the combination of an outward-looking Chinese economy moving toward capitalism and a communist dictatorship bent on self-preservation is a formula for instability.
Considered the Bush administration’s hard-liner on China, Mr. Rumsfeld said he has no code words or doctrine to describe his outlook, other than what he termed “old-fashioned” realism.
The reality of China today, he said, is that it is reaching out to the world economically at the same time it is increasing its defense budget by “double-digit” percentages annually.
The economic outreach includes a relatively free-market economic system that is introducing new technology and exposing people in China to new freedoms, he said.
“Ask yourself how compatible that is with a dictatorial, rigid political system that lacks the political freedoms that many if not most successful economies enjoy,” he said.
“I happen to be in the camp that suggests that’s an awfully tough thing to do. Repression does work, and your can repress for a very long time. But if you try to do it while simultaneously achieving a high-growth economy with extensive interaction with other nations of the world, you’re putting at risk your ability to repress. So I’m not wise enough to know how it’s going to come out.”
Chinese leaders in the future will face pressure for political reform brought on by greater economic freedom, but they may choose to halt reform rather than risk the collapse of their communist system, he said.
“Money’s a coward. People vote with their feet, and if you create an environment that is inhospitable to investment, the inevitable result is that investment will dry up, as it should,” he said.
The defense secretary said it is not clear what the United States can do to influence China’s future.
“We as a country are not unimportant, but it takes an awful lot of countries behaving in a way that can conceivably moderate or affect the behavior of a country of that nature, that size, that location, that history, that view of themselves,” he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said he is “enamored” with military-to-military relationships generally, although they should produce “reciprocal” benefits for both sides.
“I don’t think we ought to be so eager for military-to-military contact that we end up providing things to another country that they don’t provide to us, or where the value is not roughly comparable,” he said.
He defended his decision earlier this year to suspend Pentagon ties to the Chinese military during the detention of 24 American service members in China after the April 1 collision between a Chinese jet and a U.S. EP-3E electronic surveillance plane. Ties have since been resumed on a restricted basis.
The incident helped to sharpen his understanding of the internal dynamics at play between Chinese military and civilian leaders, Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Chinese leaders were “jockeying” for position and power in responding to the incident, he said.
“Here is a Chinese pilot who had no more idea in the world he was going to kill himself, hot-dogging up in front of the airplane,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “Only an idiot would stick their horizontal stabilizer in someone else’s propeller. You know he didn’t do that intentionally and there, he is gone, dead because he was doing that. And all of a sudden it was an enormous event in China in terms of their leadership, how it’s handled, who says what.”
Mr. Rumsfeld would not say whether the Pentagon will agree to pay the $1 million tab sought by Beijing for the removal of the EP-3E from China’s southern Hainan island.
“I think what the United States ought to do is pay whatever it ought to pay, and that’s probably what we’ll pay,” he said, noting that the EP-3E will be repaired and flown again.
“They’re in short supply,” he said of the monitoring aircraft. “We need those airplanes.”