SINGAPORE -- China's military buildup, particularly its
positioning of hundreds of missiles facing Taiwan, is a threat to Asian security, Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Saturday.
Rumsfeld rebuked China at a regional security conference here, saying it was pouring
huge resources into its military and buying large amounts of sophisticated weapons despite
facing no threat from any other country.
The Pentagon chief's remarks signaled a harder line against China from the Bush
administration, which has criticized Beijing over trade and human rights issues but not
directly challenged its military buildup.
The director of the Asia bureau of China's foreign ministry, Cui Tiankai, was in the
audience for Rumsfeld's speech and reacted strongly.
"Since the U.S. is spending a lot more money than China is doing on defense, the
U.S. should understand that every country has its own security concerns and every country
is entitled to spend money necessary for its own defense," Cui told The Associated
Press after Rumsfeld's remarks.
Rumsfeld said the Pentagon's annual assessment of China's military capabilities shows
China is spending more than its leaders acknowledge, expanding its missile capabilities
and developing advanced military technology.
China now has the world's third-largest military budget, he said, behind the United
States and Russia. He did not say how large the U.S. believes China's military budget is.
"Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment?
Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases?" Rumsfeld said at the
conference organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, a private,
London-based think tank.
Cui responded sharply to Rumsfeld during a question-and-answer session.
"Do you truly believe that China is under no threat by other countries?" Cui
asked. "Do you truly believe that the U.S. is threatened by the emergence of
Rumsfeld said he does not think any country threatens China and that the United States
does not see China as a threat.
Central to the disagreement is Taiwan, a self-governing island Beijing regards as a
China has said it will attack Taiwan if the island tries to declare independence, and
it repeatedly calls on the United States to stop selling weapons to Taiwan. Beijing
denounced a joint U.S.-Japan statement earlier this year saying the two allies shared the
objective of a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue.
The United States is urging the European Union to keep in place its ban on selling
weapons to China. Washington argues that any European weapons sold to China could be used
in a conflict over Taiwan.
"I just look at the significant rollout of ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan, and
I have to ask the question: If everyone agrees the question of Taiwan is going to be
settled in a peaceful way, why this increase in ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan?"
He also questioned China's government, saying political freedom there has not kept pace
with increasing economic freedom.
"Ultimately, China will need to embrace some form of a more open and
representative government if it is to fully achieve the political and economic benefits to
which its people aspire," he said.
The defense secretary, who has said he would like to visit China this year, also
pressed Beijing to use its influence with North Korea to restart six-nation talks over
Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. North Korea has stayed away for a year from the talks
with China, the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
Rumsfeld said the United Nations may need to decide what to do about the nuclear threat
from North Korea, which declared in February that it has atomic bombs. North Korea says it
needs a nuclear deterrent because of what it calls Washington's "hostile policy"
Rumsfeld said North Korea is a worldwide threat because of its record of selling
missile technology and other weapons. "One has to assume that they'll sell anything,
and that they would sell nuclear weapons," he said.
Similar U.S. criticism of North Korea has sparked an angry response from Pyongyang. The
state-run Korean Central News Agency this week called Vice President Dick Cheney a
"bloodthirsty beast" for saying that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was
President Bush and other administration officials say the U.S. has no intention of
attacking North Korea.
Tensions between the two nations have been rising in recent months. Last week, the
Pentagon suspended its only contact with North Korea efforts to search for the remains of
missing servicemen from the Korean War. U.S. officials said they could not guarantee the
search teams' safety in remote areas.