China defense chief says military hardware drive no threat

(Reuters) - BEIJING, Jan 9 (Reuters) - China’s military technology lags decades behind the world’s most advanced armed forces and does not threaten any country, the Chinese defense minister said on Monday after talks with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Gates’s visit from Sunday to Wednesday comes a week before Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to Washington.

“The efforts that we place on the research and development of weapons systems are by no means targeted at any third country or any other countries in the world, and it will by no means threaten any other country in the world,” Chinese Minister of Defense Liang Guanglie told reporters after talks with Gates.

U.S. officials have noted quick advances in China’s anti-ship ballistic missile programme, which could challenge U.S. aircraft carriers. China may also be preparing to launch its first aircraft carrier in 2011, faster than some estimates, and new photos indicate it has a prototype of a stealth fighter jet.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Chris Buckley