In an obvious reference to Taiwan, General Xu Caihou (徐才厚), vice chairman of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Central Military Commission, told a Washington audience on Monday that China had to modernize and build its armed forces because the country “has yet to realize complete unification.”
He added: “So, I believe it is simply necessary for the PLA to have an appropriate level of modernity in terms of our weapons and equipment.”
But in a speech and question-and-answer session, Xu was careful to avoid controversy or engage in any detailed discussion of Taiwan. Referring to the world in general, he said that China would never seek hegemony, military expansion or an arms race.
“There is still a huge gap between China and the developed world,” he said. “We are now predominantly committed to peaceful development and we will not, and could not, challenge or threaten any other country.”
He was due to privately meet US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the Pentagon yesterday before leaving Washington later in the week for a major tour of US military bases.
In his address to an invited group of defense and foreign policy experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Xu said that China’s development of weapons and military equipment — including cruise and ballistic missiles — was purely defensive, limited in scope and justified “given the vast area of China, the severity of the challenges facing us.”
Dressed in full military uniform and speaking through a translator, he said: “I want to make clear that the limited weapons and equipment of China is entirely to meet the minimum requirements for meeting national security. China’s defense policy remains defensive and is designed to repel attacks, not initiate attacks.”
The visit is widely seen as preparing the way for US President Barack Obama’s planned trip to Beijing next month.
China’s defense spending increased by an average of 16.2 percent a year from 1999 to last year and will rise 14.9 percent this year, Bloomberg news service has said. It is the second-highest in the world after the US — between US$105 billion and US$150 billion. The US military budget last year, not including supplemental spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was US$488 billion.
Xu said that China’s military expenditure was “quite low” and that it spends 1.4 percent of its GDP on defense, compared with 4.8 percent for the US.
“We believe that we should prudently handle current and future international affairs with a way of thinking that seeks accommodation instead of confrontation and win-win instead of zero-sum games,” Xu said. “The China-US relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world. Exchanges and cooperation between the United States and China are important for world peace and development.”