BEIJING — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told students and faculty at a Communist Party school here today that openness, democracy and freedom are the keys to China’s future.
“Every society has to be vigilant against another type of great wall that can be a burden on man’s talents and is borne from fear of them — a wall that limits speech, information or choices,” Mr. Rumsfeld told a group of about 30 students at the Central Party School. “Yet history teaches us that it is impossible, in practical terms, to isolate any people for long. Eventually, information seeps through.”
The Central Party School is China’s training center for communist leaders. All senior leaders of the government must first undergo ideological and other training there.
Mr. Rumsfeld also told his seminar audience that China is sending conflicting signals about its desire for good relations with the United States.
He said that while trade and high-level visits are increasing, Beijing has had “a very limited response” to proposed educational exchanges and military-to-military interaction, citing its exclusion of the U.S. military from exercises in China and its promotion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which sought to have U.S. bases removed from Uzbekistan.
“So we see mixed signals, and we seek clarification,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The defense secretary, who is visiting China as part of a five-nation tour that includes stops in South Korea, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Lithuania, said the most important change in the world since his first visit to Beijing in 1974 has been the growth of democracy.
“While there is no model that is perfect for every nation at every time in its development, a look across the globe suggests that societies that tend to encourage more open markets and freer systems are societies where people are enjoying the greatest opportunities,” he said.
China is a “major player” in the world system and “must increasingly take a share of responsibility for the international system’s health and success,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Repeating earlier worries about China’s military buildup, he told the seminar that many nations “have questions about the pace and scope of China’s military expansion.”
“A growth in China’s power projection understandably leads other nations to questions, intentions, and to adjust their behavior in some fashion,” he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld was quizzed about internal U.S. politics during the seminar, with one professor asking about “different voices” coming from the Bush administration on China. Mr. Rumsfeld said: “I have not noticed that,” and that all U.S. officials support President Bush’s policies.
Earlier, Mr. Rumsfeld said he would question Chinese military and defense officials about Beijing’s military buildup and why it is being kept secret.
“I think it will be interesting to visit with them about that,” he told reporters aboard an Air Force E-4 strategic command jet before arriving yesterday afternoon in Beijing.
Mr. Rumsfeld said many governments in Asia also cannot explain China’s large investment in weapons over the past decade.
“I think it’s interesting that other countries wonder why [China] would be increasing their defense effort at the pace they are, and yet not acknowledging it,” he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said in June that China’s buildup of forces is being carried out at a time when no nation threatens China militarily. He also said China’s defense spending is much larger than amounts made public by the communist government in Beijing.
A Pentagon report made public in August stated that China’s official annual defense budget of $30 billion is actually closer to $90 billion when foreign arms purchases, missile and nuclear-arms spending and internal troop funding is added. The report estimated that based on its current pace, Chinese defense spending could triple by 2025.
The report stated that China is rapidly building its military forces to project power far from its shores, and that it is deploying new missiles that threaten other countries and Taiwan.
Mr. Rumsfeld, making his first visit to Beijing as President Bush’s defense secretary, said he did not come earlier because of China’s response to the 2001 collision of a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane with a Chinese fighter jet. After that collision, China made “hostages” of U.S. military personnel who made an emergency landing at a Chinese military base on Hainan Island, he said. The 23-member U.S. crew was held for 11 days before being released.
“The EP-3 incident in 2001 clearly set back the military-to-military relationship,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
He also confirmed that China’s military refused to permit him to visit the Western Hills Command Center — considered the Chinese Pentagon — located in northwest Beijing.
The Pentagon had requested a visit to the command center but it was turned down. Instead, Mr. Rumsfeld will visit a strategic missile administrative headquarters today.
“I find it all interesting. They do what they do; we do what we do, and that’s a decision on their part,” he said. “It tells something about them. So you learn something.”