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US Defense Secretary Says China Is Not Strategic Threat

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday he does not consider China a strategic threat, in spite of the country's sharply rising defense spending and capability. Still, the top U.S. military officer says the United States must be prepared to respond to any threat that develops. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Secretary Gates told a news conference China's rising military spending does not by itself represent a threat, unless it is accompanied by an intention to confront the United States.

"I do not see China, at this point, as a strategic adversary of the United States," said Robert Gates. "It's a partner in some respects. It's a competitor in other respects. And so we are simply watching to see what they're doing."

Secretary Gates repeated U.S. calls for more transparency in China's defense budget, which he said is likely larger than the official figure. China has announced an 18 percent increase in its official defense spending, the largest in a series of large annual increases.

At the same news conference, the top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, said even though it is not clear what China intends to do with its growing military capability, the United States needs to be ready.

"When you see the global capacity growing in any area, we need to make sure that the United States' military is capable of handling any threat that might develop, without regard to current intent, which is why, in the budget, when you look at it, there is not only the money for continuing the global war on terror, but also ensuring that we have the air force we need, the navy we need, and all the things we need for conventional battles," said said General Pace.

General Pace said it is important that any potential U.S. adversary not think the United States is too busy with the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to respond to any other threat. He said the U.S. military is committed to maintaining the ability to, in his words, "over match" the capability of any potential adversary.

Earlier Wednesday, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, Admiral William Fallon, told a congressional committee some of China's military buildup is aimed at countering U.S. capabilities. He said China's military has apparently been told to develop the ability to take Taiwan by force, if necessary, and to deal with any U.S. military help that would be provided to the island.

He said China's recent test of an anti-satellite weapon is "clearly" aimed at countering U.S. military systems, which rely heavily on satellites for surveillance and communications. But other U.S. officials have said the U.S. military has plenty of back-up systems, and more are being developed, some of which do not rely on satellites.