|Donald Rumsfeld speaks during meeting of defense ministers on Asian security issues, Saturday|
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a gathering of defense ministers from 21 nations that China now has the third-largest military budget in the world and the largest in Asia. And he said China appears to be expanding its missile forces, allowing them to target many parts of the world.
"Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder why this growing investment, why these continuing large and expensive arms purchases, why this continuing robust deployment?" he said.
Under questioning from a Chinese delegate, Mr. Rumsfeld said he does not believe the United States is threatened by the emergence of China as a world power.
China this year announced an increase to its military budget of 12 percent, but Mr. Rumsfeld said he believes the actual figure is higher.
Tensions between the two Pacific powers have simmered for decades over Taiwan, a U.S. ally that China claims as a renegade province. Beijing has threatened to attack Taiwan if it declares independence.
The defense secretary, in his speech, also said political liberties have not followed China's booming economic growth. He added that ultimately China must embrace some form of open, representative government if it is to fully achieve the benefits that its people seek.
Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, in a speech opening the conference Friday, warned that confronting China will antagonize it without blocking its growth. And he said that any attempt to contain China will receive little support in the region.
Mr. Rumsfeld reiterated U.S. concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, saying it threatens stability in the region and the world. And he urged Pyongyang to return to the stalled six-party talks aimed at defusing the situation.
Following the meeting in Singapore, Mr. Rumsfeld is to visit Malaysia and Thailand before flying to Europe for talks with leaders of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.