Wednesday, June 13, 2007

China continues to put off nuclear weapons talks with the United States that were promised by Beijing’s leader and has not matched U.S. openness in recent military exchanges, a senior Pentagon official told Congress yesterday.

“In the bilateral military relationship, we are troubled by what appears to be an unwillingness to reciprocate the openness and transparency we have shown to visiting [Chinese military] representatives,” said Richard Lawless, deputy undersecretary of defense for Asia.

Mr. Lawless, appearing before the House Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon was encouraged by Chinese President Hu Jintao’s stated interest in talks on nuclear strategy, policy and doctrine. However, “we are concerned by an apparent reluctance on the part of the [Chinese] government to discuss transparently these important issues.”

Mr. Hu told President Bush during an April 2006 summit in Washington that he would arrange the talks with China’s military on nuclear issues.

“We have been unable to schedule a date for this dialogue,” Mr. Lawless said.

Pentagon officials said China has refused to set a date for a visit to the United States by Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, head of China’s nuclear forces, after he was invited by Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, the commander of U.S. nuclear forces. Chinese officials have said scheduling problems and an upcoming Communist Party conference prevented them from setting a date.

The Chinese general, however, visited several nations in South America in December, an indication that China’s military is delaying the visit, defense officials said. They noted that China’s military fears that discussions on its growing nuclear weapons arsenal will assist the United States military in targeting the weapons in any conflict.

Mr. Lawless said a dialogue on nuclear issues is needed because “what’s really happening here is while the United States’ capabilities are remaining essentially constant, we have a significant improvement in China’s ability to target the United States or to target us regionally but specifically the continental United States.”

Mr. Lawless said China’s lack of openness about its annual defense spending is “emblematic of our fundamental concerns over a lack of transparency in China’s military and security affairs.” Beijing maintains that it is spending about $45 billion a year on defense, while U.S. estimates put the figure as high as $125 billion.

Mr. Lawless, who is stepping down from his post this summer, said China’s military is engaged in a major buildup of forces that includes longer-range missiles, warships, submarines and other high-technology armaments. China’s military also is building up space weapons and cyber-warfare capabilities, he said.

The buildup is aimed at preparing for a war over Taiwan, which Beijing views as part of its territory, as well as to conduct military expansionism in the future over energy resources or territory, Mr. Lawless said.

He said China’s military has reached a point where it can confront the U.S. military successfully and is building “asymmetric” warfare weapons.

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