The U.S. Navy admiral chosen by President Bush to be the next commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific issued a warning to China Thursday, saying it needs to be careful about developing offensive military capabilities. Admiral Timothy Keating made the comment during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
Admiral Keating told the committee there is a fair amount of "harmony" across the Taiwan Straits. And he said both China and Taiwan need to work to ensure that does not change.
"In dealing with the People's Republic of China and with the government of Taiwan, we would emphasize that China has to be very careful in the development of offensive weapons," said Admiral Keating. "We want to sustain Taiwan's notion of a defensive front from their military capabilities. We would encourage increased dialogue between those two countries on an informal basis. And we're not unaware of the burgeoning economic engine that is trade across the Straits of Taiwan."
Admiral Keating said both China and Taiwan need to understand that the U.S. military is watching closely for any change in relations across the Straits. The United States has promised to help Taiwan defend itself against attack by China. Some members of Congress have expressed concerns that moves by some politicians in Taiwan to declare independence could unnecessarily provoke a conflict.
At the same time, Admiral Keating expressed some concern about China's rapid military buildup. The country announced an 18 percent increase in its defense budget this year, the latest in a 15-year string of double digit increases. On Wednesday, the outgoing U.S. Pacific Commander, Admiral William Fallon, said some of that buildup is aimed at countering U.S. capabilities in case of a war over Taiwan.
Admiral Keating said, in spite of China's spending, it remains "well behind" the United States in military technology. But, he said, he is concerned about China's buildup of its submarine force.
"In particular, undersea warfare is an area of concern," he said. "We will pay close attention to it, if confirmed. I have had the pleasure of cruising throughout those waters on considerable regularity in my earlier career, senator, and I can assure you that we're not unfamiliar with the challenges. And, we have significant advantages now, and we're not going to yield those advantages."
Admiral Keating also said he plans to continue his predecessor's efforts to build military relations with China.
"We'll undertake as aggressive but measured and reasonable approach as we can to the senior military leadership, and not just the senior military leaders, but at as many levels as we can with the Chinese military, so as to develop relationships and an understanding and a common bond," he said.
The admiral said he hopes to expand joint military exercises with China, which started only recently with two small-scale search and rescue drills.
If he is confirmed by the Senate, Admiral Keating will take command of all U.S. land, sea and air forces in Asia, and in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
His previous assignments as a Navy pilot have included time on aircraft carriers in the region and as commander of a U.S. carrier group based in Japan. He also held key Middle Eastern commands during the 1991 Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and he has worked at Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii and in a senior staff position at the Pentagon.
The admiral is currently in charge of the North American Air Defense Command, which monitors the skies over the United States and Canada, and Northern Command, which is responsible for protecting U.S. territory.