Fri, Mar 17, 2006 - Page 1 News List

China's arms cause concern, Rice says

NO TRANSPARENCY Ahead of a trilateral meeting with Australia and Japan, the US secretary of state outlined Washington's concerns about China's arms spending

AFP , SYDNEY

The US is concerned about China's military build-up and Beijing should make its intentions clear, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.

Rice was speaking at a news conference here after meeting Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and ahead of a new trilateral security dialogue with Japan tomorrow, at which China's growing power is top of the agenda.

"We've said we have concerns about the Chinese military build-up. We've told the Chinese that they need to be transparent," she said.

"I heard there's going to be a 14 percent increase in the Chinese defense budget -- that's a lot -- and China should undertake to be transparent about what that means."

In an immediate response from Beijing, China insisted its military policies were clear.

"China's defense policy is totally transparent, it's a defensive policy. We hope the other countries will consider this issue objectively," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang (秦剛) said.

China's parliament on Tuesday approved a 14.7-percent increase in military spending to US$35 billion this year, following similar double-digit rises in recent years.

China has repeatedly pointed out that its military spending still represents less than 10 percent of the US armed forces' budget.

Rice's remarks come amid a renewed rise in tensions between China and Taiwan after Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) moved to suspend a council set up to advise on eventual unification with China.

China was infuriated by the decision, calling it a dangerous move toward Taiwan's "independence" and a threat to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.

Beijing urged the US, which is Taiwan's biggest military supplier, to take a harder line against Chen ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) visit to Washington next month.

Rice, in an apparent effort to counter suggestions that US President George W. Bush has instead begun taking a more hawkish line on China, said policy had not changed.

"To the degree we have concerns, we are going to raise them. We're going to raise them about human rights and religious freedoms, but I think this policy has been consistent from the day the president came to Washington," she said.

Comments by Rice ahead of her trip, in which she said the US and its allies had a responsibility to ensure that China's rise was "not a negative force," have been interpreted by some as foreshadowing a new policy of containment.

But the Australian foreign minister played down suggestions that tomorrow's trilateral security dialogue with Japan could lead to such a policy, which he has said would be a "very big mistake."

"We've never had a concern that the United States was pursuing a policy of containment of China or something like that -- if you like, commensurate with the once-upon-a-time Cold War strategy," Downer said.

He said Australia's relationship with Beijing was "good and constructive," but cautioned that Beijing, as a growing regional power, "needs to understand that brings with it a lot of responsibilities."

In contrast to the caution over China, Rice was fulsome in her assessment of Asia's other growing giant, India, with which the US has signed a controversial nuclear cooperation agreement.

"India is a rising power in Asia, and a democratic power that is rising," she said.

"And it is a multi-ethnic, vibrant place that is finding its place in the international economy and in international politics and we need a broad and deep relationship with this rising democracy, and so on all those grounds we believe that this an important deal," she said.

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