U.S. says China nuclear programs lack transparency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lack of transparency surrounding China’s nuclear programs raises questions about its strategic intentions, the United States said on Tuesday.

Surface-to-surface missiles are displayed in a parade to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, in Beijing October 1, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee

“China’s nuclear arsenal remains much smaller than the arsenals of Russia and the United States,” the administration said in a nuclear policy document published on Tuesday.

“But the lack of transparency surrounding its nuclear programs -- their pace and scope, as well as the strategy and doctrine that guides them -- raises questions about China’s future strategic intentions.”

“The United States and China’s Asian neighbors remain concerned about the pace and scope of China’s current military modernization efforts, including its quantitative and qualitative modernization of its nuclear capabilities,” it said.

China last month unveiled its 2010 military budget with a spending hike of 7.5 percent, a relatively low figure that surprised outside analysts after more than two decades of double-digit rises.

The U.S. report reiterated the Pentagon’s oft-stated wish to hold a strategic dialogue with the Chinese military that would “provide a venue and mechanism for each side to communicate its views about the other’s strategies, policies, and programs on nuclear weapons and other strategic capabilities.”

“The goal of such a dialogue is to enhance confidence, improve transparency, and reduce mistrust,” the report added.

China ended weeks of uncertainty last week when it announced that President Hu Jintao would attend a summit next week on nuclear security in Washington.

China had previously delayed saying whether Hu would participate in the multinational meeting hosted by President Barack Obama. U.S.-China ties have recently been clouded by economic and political disputes.

Washington angered Beijing by announcing a $6.4 billion arms package for Taiwan early this year, and China responded by postponing several high-level exchanges between U.S. and Chinese military leaders.

But China did not freeze all military-to-military contacts as it did in response to previous U.S. arms deals with Taiwan.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Paul Eckert, Editing by Alan Elsner