U.S. navy chief says reassured during China visit

BEIJING (Reuters) - The United States and China have begun to ease suspicion over their military intentions but uncertainties persist over Beijing’s long-term goals, a senior U.S. military official said on Tuesday.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Mullen, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, poses in the White House in Washington, June 28, 2007. The United States and China have begun to ease suspicion over their military intentions but uncertainties persist over Beijing's long-term goals, Mullen said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Mullen said after meetings with top Chinese commanders and a visit to a naval training base that he had developed a better grasp of Beijing’s military modernization.

“There’s a long way to go, but I’m reassured,” he told reporters during a visit to meet Chinese defense and foreign policy officials. “I’m very encouraged about their commitment to continuing to improve this relationship.”

Mullen, who has been nominated to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Washington still wanted a clearer picture of where China was taking its military modernization.

“It really is that long-term-where-are-you-going question that is one we need to continue to just reach a better understanding of,” he said.

China says its growing military strength is a force for peace that does not threaten any other country.

But across the region some worry that Beijing’s military plans could risk war over Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing says is part of its territory, or destabilize East Asia.

Mullen said Taiwan came up in talks, but nothing new was said. The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, recognizing “one China”, but is obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to help the island defend itself in case of attack.

Washington has urged Beijing to be more open about how much it spends on military modernization and what its plans are -- especially in developing a navy that can reach across the oceans.

In March, China said it would boost defense spending by 17.8 percent to about $45 billion this year, but a Pentagon report in May said Beijing’s total military-related spending could be more than double that.

Mullen said China’s navy appeared to be a mix of old and new and that he had noticed it had developed new ships and what he called “very capable submarines”.