China's Strength 'Important New Reality' in Asia-Pacific Region
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE, Jun. 4, 2005 China's emergence as a potentially stronger military power "is an important new reality of this era, one that the countries of the region would no doubt like to embrace," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.
Rumsfeld was the first speaker at the annual Asia Security Conference, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, hosted here by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The conference brings together defense ministers and other high-ranking government officials from several countries.
Rumsfeld said any candid discussion of security in the Asia-Pacific region must include talking about areas of concern -- both to the region and to the world.
The U.S. Defense Department is preparing to release a congressionally mandated report analyzing China's military power and advancements.
"Among other things," Rumsfeld said, "the report will conclude that China's defense expenditures are considerably higher than Chinese officials have publicly admitted. It is estimated that China's is the third-largest military budget in the world, and now the largest in Asia."
China appears to be expanding its missile forces, allowing it to reach targets in many areas of the world -- not just the Pacific region -- while also expanding its missile capabilities within this region, Rumsfeld said. The country also is improving its ability to project power, and is developing advanced systems of military technology.
"One might be concerned that this buildup is putting the delicate military balance in the region at risk -- especially, but not only, with respect to Taiwan," Rumsfeld said. Since no nation threatens China, one wonders -- why this growing investment?"
During a question-and-answer session following his speech, Rumsfeld said he truly believes that no other country threatens China. He also noted that China has deployed ballistic missiles in the direction of Taiwan, even as the country says publicly that it has no plans to move militarily against the largely independent island province, which China clams is part of its sovereign territory.
Rumsfeld spoke at length about how China's economy and political structure might continue to evolve depending on actions taken by the current government there.
"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 followed suit," the secretary said. "With a system that encouraged enterprise and free expression, China would appear more a welcome partner."
He said China has "fundamental decisions" to make about its goals and its future. "Ultimately, China will need to embrace some form of a more open, representative government if it is to fully achieve the benefits to which its people aspire," he said.