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Gates to Discuss Military Concerns During China Visit


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates heads to Asia in the coming days, where he says he will seek more information about some of China's military programs, which he says cause him concern. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Secretary Gates says he does not see China as a military threat to the United States, but there are things that worry him.

"I have concerns with a variety of the military programs that they have underway, the developmental programs," he said. "I have concern with the lack of transparency. And those are the kinds of issues that we will be talking about, in addition to how we can strengthen the relationship."

In January, China successfully tested an anti-satellite weapon by shooting down one of its own satellites. And the annual Pentagon report on China's military said in May that the country's buildup includes improving its submarines, aircraft and missiles, along with its ability to operate far from its own shores. The report also said, "The outside world has limited knowledge of the motivations, decision-making, and key capabilities supporting China's military modernization," and it said Chinese leaders have not adequately explained their intentions.

China said the Pentagon report exaggerates, "misleads international opinion" and "pays no attention to the actual state of affairs."

U.S. officials have repeatedly called on China to be more open about its military programs. Early this year, China announced the largest increase in its official defense budget in five years, an 18 percent increase to the equivalent of $45 billion.

Western experts believe China's actual military spending is at least double that amount, and maybe four times the official figure. But the experts also point out that China has a long way to go to build a modern military that could challenge U.S. military superiority in the Pacific.

U.S. officials say they want to build a cooperative defense relationship with China in an effort to avoid conflict in the future.

Secretary Gates will also visit South Korea and Japan during his trip.

In Tokyo, one topic for his talks will likely be the Japanese government's decision this past week to suspend its refueling operation for U.S. navy ships involved in supplying the coalition and NATO efforts in Afghanistan. Secretary Gates says the decision was the result of internal Japanese politics and will not affect the U.S.-Japan defense relationship.

"My hope is that relatively soon, in a matter of weeks or, I hope, not more than a few months, this assistance will be able to be renewed," he added.

The secretary also said Japan is involved in supporting the global war on terrorism in other ways.