US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned yesterday that China is spending considerably more on a major military buildup than officially acknowledged and asked why it had so many missiles aimed at Taiwan.
A Pentagon study due to be released later this month concludes that China's defense budget is now the largest in Asia and third largest in the world, he said.
"Since no nation threatens China, one wonders: why this growing investment?" Rumsfeld said. "Why these continuing large weapons purchases?"
He delivered the warning, one of the bluntest yet by a senior US official, to an audience of Asian defense ministers and military experts at a gathering hosted by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Singapore.
During a question and answer session, a Chinese foreign ministry official asked if Rumsfeld really believed China faced no threat and if the US felt threatened by China.
"I don't know of nations that threaten China," Rumsfeld said, adding: "No, we don't feel threatened by the emergence of China. It strikes me that the emergence of China is perfectly understandable."
"If everyone is agreed that the situation between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan is going to be resolved in a peaceful way then one has to ask why this significant increase in ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan," he said.
Rumsfeld said escalating military budgets in the region "are matters that should be of concern," pointing to rivalries that endure despite the end of the Cold War.
"China appears to be expanding its missile forces, allowing them to reach targets in many areas of the world while also expanding its missile capabilities within this region," he said.
"China also is improving its ability to project power, and is developing advanced systems of military technology," he said.
But facing an audience anxious about a possible US-China confrontation in Asia, Rumsfeld toned down parts of his prepared speech and insisted the US sought neither to destabilize China nor fan a competition for regional influence.
One line dropped from his prepared text said: "One might be concerned that this buildup is putting the delicate military balance in the region at risk -- especially, but not only, with respect to Taiwan."
China earlier this year announced a 12.6 percent increase in military spending to 244.65 billion yuan (US$ 29.5 billion).
Rumsfeld said political freedom has not followed economic growth in China, creating uncertainties for the future.
"Ultimately, China likely will need to embrace some form of open, representative government if it is to fully achieve the benefits to which its people aspire," he said.