Gates: U.S. Hopes for More Openness, Transparency From China
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE, May. 31, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expressed hope today that ongoing discussions between the United States and China will lead to greater openness and transparency about China’s military intentions and capabilities.
Gates, here for an Asian security summit conference, said the United States watches China’s military developments closely, and is concerned about some aspects of those developments that China keeps hidden from the rest of the world.
“We’re working on this,” he told NHK TV Japan in a segment that aired this morning, expressing hope that strategic nuclear dialogue under way will pave the way for increased openness and exchange.
“I am hopeful that the dialogue we have initiated with the Chinese will continue to grow and … reduce some of the concern we have and others here in the region have,” he said.
Gates is slated to meet today with Chinese Lt. Gen. M.A. Xiatian, deputy chief of general staff for the People’s Liberation Army, during a “pull-aside,” an informal bilateral meeting during the conference.
During his keynote address today to the International Institute for Security Studies forum, Gates cited examples of forward momentum in military relations between the United States and China, including an increasing military-to-military engagement. For example, China is participating this year for the first time as an observer in the Cobra Gold exercise in Thailand.
He also pointed to the new defense telephone link that Gates and Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie recently tested for the first time. The first operational use of the “hotline” coordinated U.S. humanitarian support for China’s earthquake-stricken Sichuan province earlier this month.
“We have also begun a series of dialogues on strategic issues to help us understand one another better, and to avoid possible misunderstanding,” Gates told the participants in the security forum known as the “Shangri-La Dialogue,” named for the hotel here in which the annual conference takes place.
But Gates also emphasized the need to play by internationally accepted rules and not to disrupt the openness of trade, of ideas and of access to maritime, space and cyber domains, factors that have brought prosperity to the region. He stressed the importance of continued common use of these so-called “common spaces” in ways that continue to drive that mutual prosperity.
Lack of clarity about a neighbor’s strategic intentions “all too often prompts reliance and sometimes over-reliance on counter-strategies and hedging that can, over time, yield to outright suspicion,” he said during a question-and-answer session after his address. “This is a direction we seek to avoid. Instead, we desire to work with every country in Asia to deepen our understanding of their military and defense finances, and to do so on a reciprocal basis.
“We do so in a sincere and open effort to avoid misreading intentions, and so we can continue our work as strategic partners,” he said.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he shares Gates’ sentiments about positive developments with China during an interview here last night with Chinese television. Mullen called the new hotline an example of growing military-to-military contacts between the United States and China.
“It’s important that we stay engaged to create a better understanding of what our intentions are and our goals are,” the chairman said. “I’ve expressed concern before about the increased defense budget in China and the technologies it’s focused on. All of this argues for the need for us to stay in discussion so we can understand strategic intent.”
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command -- who also is here for the security summit -- noted during a Pentagon news conference earlier this week that China’s willingness to talk with U.S. military leaders, and its acceptance of earthquake aid, represents a welcome change.
"China's reaction here in the aftermath of this earthquake is different than China's reaction has been to other natural disasters in China," Keating said. "While it is catastrophic and tragic, it nonetheless is an opportunity for us to increase and improve the communications we have with officials in China."
The apparent turnaround bodes well for further discourse during the Shangri-La conference, officials said. That’s a marked departure from the past two Asian summits, both immediately after release of the Defense Department’s annual China Military Power report. The report details China’s growing military capability and its secretiveness about the extent of the growth and budget dedicated to it.
A senior defense official traveling with Gates said the 2007 and 2006 reports were published later than expected, setting conditions for a strained atmosphere at the Shangri-La conference.
This year’s report was intentionally released on time, to prevent a repeat. “We did not want to step on Shangri La and to set up this artificial confrontation atmosphere,” the official said.
The United States and China are moving toward more positive exchanges that transcend old Cold War paradigms, a State Department official traveling with Gates told reporters. “This is not the competitive relationship of the Cold War,” he said. “We are really working together to create the conditions that will be beneficial for all of us and all of the residents of the Asian-Pacific zone.”