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China Issues Critical, But Won’t Dominate Asia Security Summit

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SINGAPORE, June 1, 2007 – Although the Asia Security Summit opens here today on the heels of the Defense Department’s May 25 release of its China Military Power Report, U.S. defense officials attending the summit intend to “let the report speak for itself and let others draw conclusions,” a senior official said.

The official, speaking to reporters on background, said the summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, isn’t expected to focus on China’s growing military capability.

The annual China report, mandated by Congress, covers key developments in China over the past year and changes in Chinese military strategy. While this year’s report emphasizes the need for China to be more transparent about its military programs and budget, it also notes China’s increased willingness to engage with the United States and other countries, the official said.

As an example of that trend, China has sent its most senior military delegation ever to this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue. Lt. Gen. Zhang Qinsheng, director of military intelligence for the People’s Republic of China, will lead the group.

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld promoted greater Chinese participation here during the 2006 conference and when he visited China in 2005. “The more people from China visit with the rest of these folks, I think it develops relationships and demystifies things in a way that’s constructive,” he told reporters covering last year’s Shangri-La Dialogue.

Those initiatives now appear to be bearing fruit. “What we are seeing is a … greater willingness and eagerness of the Chinese, I believe, to engage and engage at the uniformed officer level,” the official said.

No formal bilateral meetings are scheduled between the two countries’ delegations, he said. However, they will interface along with senior defense and military officials from 23 other countries throughout the three-day conference.

He noted that many other countries in the region share the United States’ concerns about China and are watching the situation closely.

There’s no question that the Chinese are building significant military capacity, Gates told reporters during a stop at U.S. Pacific Command Headquarters, in Hawaii, while en route here. “Our concern is over their intent,” he said.

That’s hard to gauge in light of China’s secretiveness about its programs, he said, expressing a desire to see more openness.

“Tell us more about where you are headed. What are your intentions? That is the real issue,” Gates said. “The fact that they are building capacity is just a fact. It’s what they plan or do not plan to do with it that is of interest, and that is where their transparency … would be helpful to everyone.”

Navy Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, recently travelled to China and met with Chinese officials to help address this concern.

His discussions with Chinese officials emphasized “developing a better understanding of intentions so as to avoid miscalculation or misunderstanding,” he said during a media roundtable with Gates. “It is complicated enough as is, and if there aren’t open channels of communication, if there aren’t better ways of communicating intent, … the likelihood of a miscalculation increases.”

Not knowing China’s intentions, the United States has no choice but to assume the worst, the senior defense official said. “If you don’t have any … really good idea about why they are deploying a certain system or developing competence in a particular area, you are left then to guess,” he said. “And when you guess, you have to hedge. And when you hedge, you have to assume worst-case scenarios.”

More transparency on China’s part would help the United States narrow those scenarios, the official said. That, in turn, “would probably allow us to be less concerned and cause us to hedge less,” he said. “And I think that’s where we are heading.”

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates

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