China’s massive military buildup and its targeting of hundreds of missiles at Taiwan makes it a growing threat to Asian security, said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday.
Rumsfeld criticized China at a regional security conference in Singapore, noting it was expanding its military spending and the purchase of large amounts of sophisticated weapons despite facing no threat from any other country.
The comments from a senior Bush administration official represented a turning point in China-U.S. relations. While the U.S. has criticized Beijing for trade policies and human rights abuses, it has not previously expressed concerns about 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 reveal publicly, 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.
“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 China?”
Central to the disagreement is Taiwan, a self-governing island Beijing regards as a renegade territory.
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.
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?” Rumsfeld said.
He also questioned China’s government, saying political freedom there had 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.
Rumsfeld also warned North Korea represents a threat to the entire world because of its sale of 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 irresponsible.