Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A senior Chinese diplomat describes China’s military strategy as “defensive,” and says the Beijing government does not seek to “exclude” U.S. forces from the region.

The diplomat, who gave a wide-ranging “background briefing” last week, defended China’s soaring defense budgets in advance of the release of a Pentagon report that is expected to be a sharply critical look at China’s military might and intentions.

In a series of articles last week, The Washington Times described a Chinese military buildup that includes high-tech planes, submarines and missiles as well as a vast intelligence-gathering network targeting both U.S. assets and allies across the region. The reports raised concern among some analysts of military and security affairs.

U.S. defense and intelligence officials told The Times for the series that China’s buildup has been so intense that American strategists now fear there could be a war over Taiwan within the next two years.

Last week’s surprise $18.5 billion takeover bid by China National Offshore Oil Corp. for U.S. oil firm Unocal Corp. has further fueled anxiety on Capitol Hill over China’s expanding economic clout.

The Chinese diplomat, who declined to be identified but who is known to be familiar with Chinese strategic thinking about the United States, insisted that “our strategic posture is defensive.”

“We have never asked for a single piece of land,” he said. “Our policy has been clearly stated: We want to have good relations with all our neighbors.”

U.S. strategists fear that much of China’s military buildup in recent years has been designed to project power, either in a confrontation with Taiwan or to challenge U.S. control of key shipping lanes around East Asia.

The Chinese diplomat said Beijing “recognizes that the United States is a major power in the Asia-Pacific [region].”

“It’s not China’s policy to exclude the United States from Asia. We don’t have the intention, nor the capacity, to do that. In fact, we want to work with the U.S. for peace and stability in the region.”

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in widely noted remarks at a gathering of Asian defense ministers in Singapore earlier this month, criticized China’s rapidly expanding missile programs.

“Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment?” Mr. Rumsfeld asked.

China has the largest nuclear arsenal in Asia and the world’s largest standing army at 2.5 million men. Chinese officials say they must defend an extensive border touching more than a dozen nations and must have a credible deterrent to prevent Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province, from declaring independence.

China’s defense spending is dwarfed by the Pentagon’s budget, the Chinese diplomat said, and a large part of the recent increase has gone not to military hardware, but for basic pay.

“Because our people’s standard of living has been going up so quickly, much of our defense spending has been devoted simply to making sure our soldiers have a parallel level of income. Your own defense experts said it would be at least 25 years before China could catch up with the U.S. military.”

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