News / Asia

Top US Officer Concerned About China's Military Buildup, Lack of Contact

Al Pessin

The top U.S. military officer says he is concerned about China's military buildup and its freeze of military relations with the United States.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, spoke Wednesday to the Asia Society in Washington.

Admiral Mullen said China is a legitimate regional power, but he said its recent moves to develop more modern and long-range military capabilities make him wonder about the intentions of Chinese leaders.  

"Their heavy investments of late in modern, expeditionary maritime and air capabilities seem oddly out of step with their stated goal of territorial defense," Mullen said. "Every nation has a right to defend itself and to spend as it sees fit for that purpose.  But a gap as wide as what seems to be forming between China's stated intent and its military programs leaves me more than curious about the end result.  Indeed, I have moved from being curious to being genuinely concerned."

Admiral Mullen said his concerns are heightened because Beijing has cut off military contacts with the United States again, to protest the most recent U.S. arms sale to Taiwan in January.  The United States is committed to continuing to help Taiwan maintain its ability to repel any attack from the mainland, but China says the arms sales hurt its efforts to press for national reconcilliation.

Admiral Mullen says cutting military ties with the United States is counterproductive.

"The question is: Should China and the U.S. work together, lead together, to promote regional stability?  Washington's answer is and has been an unequivocal 'yes'.  Beijing's answer has been sometimes 'yes' and sometimes 'no'," Mullen said.

The admiral indicated that military exchanges and meetings would help both sides understand the other's actions and intentions, and would reduce the likelihood of potentially dangerous misunderstandings.

His comments followed criticism of China's military last week by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  On his way to a regional security conference in Singapore, Gates accused China's top military officers of not following the same policy as senior political leaders, who have worked to develop other aspects of the U.S.-China relationship.  But some experts say the Taiwan issue is more important to Chinese leaders that U.S. officials realize.

On Wednesday, Admiral Mullen said China and the United States share a responsibility to promote stability in the Pacific and need to work together to do so.

"I hope we may renew our military relationship with China, and I hope that their military leaders will join us in supporting efforts to reduce tension, increase trust and foster the sort of genuine and sustainable stability that the people who live and work in Asia so very much deserve," Mullen said.

Admiral Mullen also welcomed China's recognition of the seriousness of North Korea's sinking of a South Korean navy ship.  But at the same time, he criticized Chinese leaders for what he called their "tepid" response to the international community's request for support in holding North Korea accountable.   

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