BEIJING, AP – Complaining of "mixed signals" from China, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday the communist government must demonstrate more clearly its interest in improving U.S.-China relations. He also lectured party officials on the lessons of democracy and free speech.
Rumsfeld cited a "rapid, non-transparent" buildup of the Chinese military and said this makes other countries, including the United States, wonder whether Beijing will hold to a peaceful path.
Rumsfeld also became the first foreigner to visit the headquarters of the Second Artillery, which has commanded China”s strategic nuclear missile force since 1966. It was a visit that U.S. officials had repeatedly requested in recent years, and Rumsfeld”s aides said it provided valuable insights.
The aides, who briefed reporters on the Second Artillery visit only on condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity, said Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, commander of the strategic nuclear forces, disavowed a recent public suggestion by another Chinese general that the United States could be targeted for a nuclear strike in the event that it intervened in a conflict over Taiwan.
The Rumsfeld aides quoted Jing as calling this "completely groundless," and reaffirming China”s policy of not being the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict.
Later, in a meeting with Rumsfeld at the Great Hall of the People, President Hu Jintao said the visit to the Second Artillery headquarters and Rumsfeld”s other discussions in Beijing will "help the military forces of our two countries to better enhance their mutual understanding and friendship."
On his first visit to China as defense secretary, Rumsfeld delivered an address to the Central Party School and fielded questions from several students and faculty members. The school is a key training ground for people the Communist Party considers its rising stars and future leaders.
One professor told Rumsfeld that China hears "different voices," or conflicting messages, from U.S. officials. Rumsfeld replied, "I hadn”t noticed that." He went on to say that it is China, not the United States, that has sent conflicting signals about its future intentions.
"So we see mixed signals and we seek clarification," Rumsfeld said.
Chinese officials required U.S. reporters to leave the room after the initial exchange, as planned.
In his prepared opening remarks, Rumsfeld said China is raising global suspicion about its military intentions by failing to acknowledge the true size of recent increases in its defense spending.
Later, at a joint news conference at the Ministry of Defense, Rumsfeld”s counterpart, Gen. Cao Gangchuan, said U.S.-China relations are strong, although he noted that it had been five years since an American secretary of defense visited China. He called Rumsfeld”s visit a "big event."
Asked about the Pentagon”s assertion in a report to Congress last July that China has vastly understated its defense spending, Cao said it would be "simply impossible" to increase the budget on the scale cited by the Pentagon because China is focusing its resources on fighting domestic poverty.
"It is not necessary and not possible, actually, for us to massively increase the defense budget," Cao said, speaking through an interpreter. He defended the accuracy of China”s report that its 2005 defense budget is about $29 billion, compared with the $90 billion the Pentagon claims is the true figure.
Even calculating it at a more recent exchange rate, the budget comes to $30.2 billion, Cao said.
"That is, indeed, the true budget we have today," he said. The Pentagon, whose budget is many times bigger than China”s, even if the $90 billion figure is right, said in its July report that China”s reported budget does not include foreign weapons purchases, which it said include up to $3 billion a year in purchases from Russia, as well as funds to support China”s nuclear arsenal.
Cao told reporters that "some funding for the development of equipment" is excluded from the published budget. The only example he cited is the Chinese space launch program.
The atmosphere surrounding Rumsfeld”s visit appeared friendly and optimistic, with Cao saying the two countries have a broad range of shared interests and a solid footing for building cooperation.
Rumsfeld applauded China”s dramatic economic successes, noting that when he first visited Beijing in 1974 as President Gerald R. Ford”s chief of staff, the streets were filled with bicycles, not cars.
At the same time, Rumsfeld made clear Washington”s irritation with what he called China”s "seeming preference" for organizations in the Asia-Pacific region that exclude the United States. He cited the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which in July issued a proclamation calling on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawing its military forces from Central Asia. A short time later Uzbekistan ordered all American troops to leave its Karshi-Khanabad air base.
Rumsfeld urged China to be more open, not only about its military budget and strategies but also with regard to political activity.
"While there is no one model that is perfect for every nation at every time in its development, a look across the globe suggests that societies that tend to encourage more open markets and freer systems are societies where the people are enjoying the greatest opportunities," Rumsfeld said at the Central Party School.
"Most of the nations in Asia understand that," he added, implying that China does not.
Rumsfeld, visiting in advance of President Bush”s planned trip here in November, said the United States would welcome a peaceful and prosperous China that contributes to international stability.
"We also approach our relationship realistically," Rumsfeld added.
"Many countries, for example, have questions about the pace and scope of China”s military expansion," he said in his prepared remarks. "A growth in China”s power projection understandably leads other nations to question China”s intentions and to adjust their behavior in some fashion."