When Defense Secretary Robert Gates travels to East Asia for a
round of regional security talks this week, he's expected to raise
pointed objections about China's military buildup and modernization
plans. But he'll do it striking a softer chord.
The approach is expected to be unlike that of his predecessor,
Donald Rumsfeld: When he spoke at the same conference in 2005, he
bluntly took Beijing to task for secretively expanding its military.
This year, things are a bit different: China has been slightly
more forthcoming in terms of reporting its military capabilities.
And Chinese military leaders have been all the more welcoming of
their US counterparts, hosting them for a number of visits and other
Secretary Gates, known as a pragmatist since taking the
Pentagon's helm in December, is likely to keep the pressure on
China. He will speak Saturday at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a three-
day security conference named after the Singapore hotel at which the
conference takes place. A delegation from Beijing is expected to
"Gates will go in a bit more modestly, but make the point that
this is still of great concern," says Derek Mitchell, a senior
fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a
think tank in Washington.
That doesn't mean American defense officials aren't concerned
about China's growing capabilities.
China is positioning itself to be not just a regional player and
a threat to neighboring Taiwan, but instead a country with
potentially far loftier goals, defense officials say. According to a
new Pentagon report released Friday that compiles key changes in
China's evolving military, China has expanded to 900 the number of
short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan - an increase of more
than 100 over last year. It continues to develop its DF-31
intercontinental-range ballistic missile, a sign of the broader
influence it would like to have. And it's building, expanding, or
acquiring new platforms such as a "multi-role" jet fighter, a battle
tank, and a guided missile frigate.
It is also developing other missile programs, including a new
submarine-launched ballistic missile on a new class of nuclear-
powered submarines, according to the report, which is an annual
assessment required by Congress.
Questions remain on whether Beijing wants to build a new aircraft
carrier - signaling, potentially, a more preemptive military
strategy. And just how much China spends on its military is another
mystery, defense officials say. …