Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Seeks More Info on China's Military

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Seeks More Info on China's Military

Article excerpt

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 exchanges.

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 attend.

"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. …

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