- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - China slammed a newly released U.S. report on Beijing’s growing military power as a “gross distortion,” saying Thursday that it could damage military relations between the two countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang lashed out at the report as “interference” in China’s affairs and said his country had formally complained.

“It is a gross distortion of facts and interference into China’s internal affairs. China resolutely opposes it and has made solemn representation to the U.S. side,” he told a regularly scheduled news conference.

A U.S. Defense Department report released in Washington _ the first under the Obama administration _ said Beijing’s rapidly growing military strength is shifting the military balance in the region and could be used to enforce its claim in disputed territories.

China’s objections were strong, signaling what continues to a bumpy start with the new U.S. administration. The two governments have tried to minimize differences, but frictions already have surfaced, including this month’s confrontation between a U.S. naval ship and Chinese vessels and China’s concerns over the weakened U.S. economy.

The report, an annual assessment for Congress, said China continues to develop weapons that threaten longtime rival Taiwan, even though tensions between the two sides have been reduced significantly. The report also said China is developing longer-range capabilities that could have an effect beyond the Asia-Pacific region.

The U.S. “welcomes the rise of a stable, peaceful and prosperous China and encourages China to participate responsibly” in world affairs, the 66-page report said. “However, much uncertainty surrounds China’s future course, particularly regarding how its expanding military power might be used.”

Qin said China has pursued peaceful development and that its military policy is defensive in nature.

“We urge the U.S. side to respect this fundamental fact, drop the Cold War mentality and bias, stop issuing the so-called report on China’s military power and stop making groundless accusations against China so as not to further damage the two countries’ military relations,” he said.

The military report comes in the wake of heightened tensions after Chinese vessels this month harassed a U.S. Navy surveillance ship in international waters in the South China Sea.

U.S.-China military-to-military talks just resumed recently after a five-month suspension over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan last year.

The report noted that the “pace and scope of China’s military transformation have increased” in recent years with the purchase of foreign weapons and greater spending on new technologies and armed forces reforms. It said China continued to develop “disruptive” technologies such as anti-satellite weapons and satellite communication jammers.

China’s military spending has jumped by double-digit percentages for nearly two decades. This year, China announced a 14.9 percent rise in military spending this year to 480.68 billion yuan ($70.27 billion), though it was a smaller increase than in previous years.

In January, China’s Defense Ministry issued a policy paper saying the growth of its military was intended for defensive purposes and aimed at maintaining peace. The country’s spending, which puts it on par with Japan, Russia and Britain, is still dwarfed by U.S. military expenditures, which are nearly 10 times as large.

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