U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in China to try to improve bilateral military ties and discuss ways to ease U.S. concerns about China's military modernization, which he says is more advanced than first thought.
Gates arrived in Beijing Sunday for a three-day visit, during which he is expected to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie.
Prior to arrival, Gates told reporters on his plane that he wants to persuade China to engage in regular military talks with the United States to prevent misunderstandings that could lead to conflict. China last invited Gates to visit in 2007, but later suspended military contacts several times to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
Secretary Gates expressed concern about China's latest advances in hi-tech weaponry.
Gates said China "clearly" has the potential to put some U.S. military capabilities "at risk." He said the United States must "respond appropriately" to that risk with its own programs. Gates also said he hopes a "strategic dialogue" with China will reduce its need for some advanced weapons. China says its military programs are purely for defense.
The U.S. Defense Secretary said Beijing's development of its first stealth fighter jet is "somewhat further along" than U.S. intelligence predicted. But, he said the quality of Chinese stealth technology is unclear. He also said China has made significant advances in building anti-ship missiles designed to destroy aircraft carriers. He said he has been concerned about China's pursuit of such missiles ever since he took office four years ago.
The U.S. Defense Department proposed a series of programs last week, aimed at responding to the perceived challenge of China's military advances. The proposals include developing a long-range nuclear bomber and radar upgrades for the F-15 fighter jet.
Gates' arrival in China comes 10 days before Chinese President Hu visits Washington to deepen ties and try to resolve disputes that marred that relationship last year.
From Beijing, Gates is due to travel to South Korea and Japan to discuss tensions on the Korean Peninsula. He praised China for what he called its "constructive" role in trying to ease those tensions.