Washington trades barbs with Beijing
over military US-China relations
The US sharply increased its criticism
of China at the weekend, questioning the motives behind
a Chinese military build-up, calling on the country's Communist
rulers to embrace "a more open and representative government"
and urging Beijing to do more to persuade North Korea to
abandon nuclear weapons.
Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, said the Pentagon's
2005 report on the Chinese military, to be published soon,
concludes that China's defence spending is much higher than
officially admitted, with its military budget ranking highest
in Asia and third in the world.
Speaking at the annual Asian security conference of the
London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies,
Mr Rumsfeld criticised China's "significant roll-out" of
ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan.
He said China, although threatened by no other nation, also
appeared to be expanding its long-range missile forces,
"allowing them to reach targets in many areas of the world,
not just the Pacific region".
"Though China's economic growth has kept pace with its military
spending, it is to be noted that a growth in political freedom
has not yet followed suit," Mr Rumsfeld said, after lauding
the spread of democracy to Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan
In Singapore yesterday, a senior US defence official said
the US expected to decide within weeks whether to bring
the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons plans before
the United Nations Security Council.
North Korea has refused for nearly a year to attend the
six-nation talks designed to resolve the problem, and the
US has become increasingly frustrated with the failure of
China or South Korea to bring pressure to bear on Pyongyang.
Japan, the main US ally in the region, also appears to be
taking a harder line on North Korea. "The opinion (in Japan)
is gaining ground that we should do something like economic
sanctions or bring this matter on the table at the UN,"
Yoshinori Ohno, Japanese minister of state for defence,
told the conference.
China responded immediately to Mr Rumsfeld's comments on
the Chinese armed forces. Cui Tiankai, a senior foreign
ministry official, bluntly asked Mr Rumsfeld whether he
truly believed China faced no threats and whether the US
felt threatened by China's emergence.
Mr Rumsfeld repeated his view that China was not under threat,
and insisted that the US did not feel threatened by the
rise of China. But he added that the Chinese "will have
to find ways to open up their political system" in a manner
compatible with the open economic system needed for further
Political and security analysts interpreted Mr Rumsfeld's
words as a warning to China not to provoke a conflict in
the Taiwan Strait and to put more pressure on North Korea
to return to negotiations.
But some Asian commentators criticised what they saw as
a simplistic American recipe for democratisation and said
there were suspicions in Asia that the US wanted to destabilise
"My feeling is that the Chinese are alarmed," said Kishore
Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
in Singapore and a former ambassador to the UN. "For them
the nightmare scenario is for the US to start believing
that this tide of democracy should reach China."