WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China’s military sought to assure the United States on Monday that its arms buildup was not a threat and said Beijing wanted to expand cooperation with the Pentagon to reduce the risk of future conflicts.
At the start of a visit to Washington, Xu Caihou, vice chairman of the People’s Liberation Army Central Military Commission, said military ties were generally moving in a “positive direction” and defended China’s fast-paced military development as purely “defensive” and “limited” in scope.
“We are now predominantly committed to peaceful development and we will not and could not challenge or threaten any other country” and “certainly not the United States,” Xu told a Washington think tank ahead of talks with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Xu described China’s development of advanced weapons systems, including cruise and ballistic missiles, as “entirely for self-defense” and justified “given the vast area of China, the severity of the challenges facing us.”
“As you know, China has yet to realize complete unification,” Xu said, in an apparent reference to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province. “So I believe it is simply necessary for the PLA to have an appropriate level of modernity in terms of our weapons and equipment.”
Xu’s visit, which will include a tour of major U.S. military bases, including U.S. Strategic Command, was meant to give a boost to military-to-military dialogue, which Beijing resumed this year after halting it in 2008 to protest a $6.5 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan.
U.S. officials have expressed alarm about what they see as China’s unprecedented military expansion over the past year. Last week, Gates said better dialogue was needed to avoid “mistakes and miscalculations.”
“I want to make clear that the limited weapons and equipment of China is entirely to meet the minimum requirements for meeting national security,” Xu said through a translator.
He said military mechanization was still at an early stage. “China’s defense policy remains defensive” and was designed to repel attacks, not initiate attacks, he said. “We will never seek hegemony ... military expansion.”
Chinese vessels have confronted U.S. surveillance ships in Asian waters repeatedly this year and Beijing has called on the United States to reduce and eventually halt air and sea military surveillance close to its shores.
Xu said those U.S. missions “infringed upon Chinese interests,” adding: “It is encouraging to see that both sides have recognized that we should not allow such incidents to damage our ... mil-to-mil relations.”
Xu said U.S.-Chinese military relations have improved since President Barack Obama took office in January and can be expanded further.
“The military-to-military relationship constitutes an important part of overall bilateral relations. It is important not only to strategic trust ... but also to regional stability,” he said. “The Chinese military is positive toward developing mil-to-mil relations with the U.S. military.”
Last month, U.S. intelligence agencies singled out China as a challenge to the United States because of its “increasing natural resource-focused diplomacy and military modernization.”
Reporting by Adam Entous; editing by Stacey Joyce