January 14, 2008 / 3:11 PM / 11 years ago

China says military buildup does not threaten U.S.

BEIJING (Reuters) - China defended its growing military prowess on Monday, saying it did not threaten the United States, and again urged Washington not to sell weapons to Taiwan.

Chinese soldiers prepare to start a march drill on the outskirts of Hefei, east China's Anhui province October 15, 2007. REUTERS/Jianan Yu

“The distance between the Chinese and U.S. militaries is big. If you fear China’s military buildup you don’t have much courage,” said Chen Bingde, chief of General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army.

“We don’t have the ability to make you afraid of us,” he told reporters in Beijing, before meeting Timothy Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command.

Some U.S. politicians have rung alarm bells about China’s increased military spending and technological revamping of its armed forces.

Sino-U.S. relations were strained last year when China blocked a visit to Hong Kong by a U.S. aircraft carrier and accompanying ships.

China’s actions prompted speculation it wanted to show irritation over U.S. plans to help Taiwan upgrade its missile system and over a meeting between President George W. Bush and exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Beijing sees Taiwan as a renegade province and the Dalai Lama as a separatist trying to win independence for Tibet, which Chinese troops invaded in 1950.

Chen also bought up Taiwan with Keating, telling him Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian “had stubbornly intensified secessionist activities”, the official Xinhua news agency said.

“Chen urged the United States to be aware of the risk of such activities, to cut off its military contact with Taiwan, and to stop weapon sales,” the report added.

China has never renounced the use to force to bring Taiwan under its wing.

“We have the ability and also relevant measures to resolve the Taiwan issue if the splittists dare to separate Taiwan from the motherland,” Chen told reporters, without elaborating.

China has repeatedly asked the United States to help rein in an increasingly assertive Taiwan, which Beijing fears is moving to formally declare independence and ditch its official name of the Republic of China.

Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 under the principle there can only be “one China” in the world, but is obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to help the democratic island defend itself.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jerry Norton

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