The admiral who will take command Monday of all U.S. forces in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and Asia says he wants to know more about what China plans to do with its rapidly increasing military capability, but he believes it will be a long time before China will be able to challenge the United States militarily. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
Admiral Timothy Keating says China's military advancement needs to be watched very closely at all times, but he does not believe the United States will lose its technological advantage over China anytime soon.
"China is either developing organically (on its own) or going out and buying some fairly sophisticated weapons systems. So while they may achieve improved combat effectiveness in certain limited areas, their overall near peer status, I think, is a long way away."
China has just announced an 18 per cent increase in its official defense budget for this year, the latest in a series of double-digit increases. But Admiral Keating told reporters in a conference call he has only seen incremental increases in China's military capabilities, and he can not confirm news reports that China is working to develop a fleet of aircraft carriers.
Still, the admiral criticized China's recent test of an anti-satellite missile. "We find that curious behavior for a nation that wants to have this peaceful entry into the league of nations, as they profess to desire. So we would cast a jaundiced (negative) eye, if you will, on China's anti-satellite test. And through the work that we will continue to do at the Pacific Command to get greater transparency on their military intentions, to operate with them across a spectrum of exercises and services, we hope to gain a better understanding of their intentions," he said.
U.S. officials have long called on China to provide more information about its defense spending, which they believe is much higher than the official figure of about $45 billion, and also to explain what they intend to do with their increasing capabilities.
The top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, is in China now pressing on those issues and others.
Admiral Keating says in addition to more transparency, he would like to further develop military exchanges and joint training exercises with China.
On Friday, the admiral will relinquish command of U.S. forces in North America at his headquarters in Colorado. By Monday, he will be at the U.S. Pacific headquarters in Hawaii to take command there.
He outlined his priorities for his new area of responsibility, which stretches from the West Coast of the United States to the East Coast of Africa. "Priorities would include continuing the war on terrorists, principally focused down in the southern part of the Philippines, and some in Indonesia and some in Malaysia, keeping the Straits of Malacca open, the relationship between North and South Korea, keeping peace in the Straits of Taiwan, helping India help us understand their culture and working more closely with them across all manner of military relationships, and paying close attention to our very strong ally down in Australia so as to strengthen the bonds that we enjoy with them."
Admiral Keating also called Japan a 'very, very strong partner' in the U.S. missile defense system, hosting a high-technology radar and considering putting anti-missile missiles on some of its navy ships. He spent the last two years of the 1990s commanding the U.S. aircraft carrier group based in Yokosuka, Japan.
The admiral has been the head of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Air Defense Command for two-and-a-half years. He is a navy pilot, and has held major commands in the Middle East and top staff positions in the Navy and with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.