Sun, Nov 04, 2007 - Page 5 News List

US commander laments PRC's absence in meeting

AP , KAPOLEI, HAWAII

The top US military commander in the Pacific lamented China's absence at a meeting of Asia-Pacific military chiefs, saying the two dozen nations that attended were anxious to work with Beijing.

Admiral Timothy Keating said he hoped China would join the annual gathering in the future.

"They were invited, but they chose not to come. We would prefer that they were here," Keating told reporters on Friday as the conference wrapped up. "We see no advantage to putting them on the shelf, or trying to circumscribe them. We're anxious to engage them and we are making every effort to do so."

Chiefs of defense from Australia to Vietnam flew to Hawaii for the three-day meeting, which aims to build relationships and to boost regional cooperation.

China has one of the world's most rapidly growing militaries. Spending for the People's Liberation Army jumped 17.8 percent this year, the largest increase in more than a decade of double-digit growth.

The Pentagon estimates that China's actual defense spending may be much higher, because the official budget does not include money for high-priced weapons systems and some other items.

At the same time, US military leaders have been actively seeking to expand exchanges with Chinese forces to reduce the potential for misunderstanding between the two Pacific powers. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to visit China next week for two days.

Keating said the defense chiefs gathered at the coastal resort of Ko Olina on Oahu were watching China's military growth, but were not worried by it.

Lieutenant General Desmond Kuek, Singapore's defense chief, said participants hoped to work closely with China's military to bolster regional security.

"We're not at all concerned" about China's military growth, Kuek said. "This is part of their natural need to build up their military capability to deal with their security concerns."

The head of the US Pacific Command has been meeting with Asia-Pacific defense chiefs each year since 1998. The meetings are held in the US state of Hawaii every other year, and in another participating nation the alternate years. Last year, the chiefs gathered in Malaysia.

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