Senior U.S. defense officials confirmed on Friday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will visit China next week, seeking some clarification of the country's intentions, as it rapidly builds its military. The U.S. defense secretary will also visit South Korea, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Lithuania on the week-long round-the-world trip.
Senior officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they expect a "serious dialogue" between Secretary Rumsfeld and senior Chinese officials, including the defense minister and the president. They said the two countries each have their own "serious strategic interests," and that those interests do not always coincide.
They predicted a "non-euphoric" visit, with no particular breakthroughs or agreements. But they stressed that President Bush wants to pursue relations with China in what they called a "realistic, but constructive frame of mind."
One official also said Chinese leaders over-reacted to the China Military Power Report issued by Secretary Rumsfeld's office in June. The report, required every year by Congress, said China has an active, multi-faceted and secretive military modernization program, that is focused on Taiwan and has already changed the military balance in Asia.
Chinese leaders objected to the report, which they said characterized China as a threat. The U.S. officials said Friday the report was factual and analytical, and avoided specific characterizations.
They said that, during this trip, Secretary Rumsfeld hopes to learn more about China's intentions for its enhanced military capability.
The officials said Secretary Rumsfeld's first visit to China in his current tenure, which began in 2001, is evidence that U.S.-China military relations have come "full circle."
The relationship hit a low point shortly after the Bush administration came into office, when a Chinese fighter jet collided with a U.S. navy surveillance plane. The U.S. plane was forced to land in China, and the crew was held for 11 days.
The officials say in a demonstration of how far U.S.-China relations have come since then, the secretary will make an unprecedented visit the headquarters of China's missile defense command, but they say he was not allowed to visit the country's defense headquarters west of Beijing.
In addition to China's military intentions, the officials expect discussion on such issues as Taiwan's security, North Korea's nuclear program and the U.S. proposal to establish a U.S.-China "hotline" to prevent any misunderstandings from being created by military movements on either side.
They also said human rights will be on the agenda. In a speech in Singapore in June, Secretary Rumsfeld said China's closed political system will hurt its development in the long term.
Secretary Rumsfeld will also visit South Korea for an update on the reduction of U.S. troop strength on the peninsula and talks about North Korea.
In Mongolia and Kazakhstan, the officials say, Secretary Rumsfeld will offer thanks for those countries' contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the global war on terrorism, and will discuss increasing U.S. help in their military modernization programs.
The secretary will end his trip in Lithuania for bi-lateral talks and a special informal NATO meeting with Ukraine's defense minister about that country's effort to join the organization.