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US-Sino Relations Progress Despite Military Issues

U.S.-Chinese Relations Progress Despite Military Modernization

Washington -- While questions remain about China's increasing military expenditures, the country's shared interests with the United States in enhanced regional security ensure cooperation and continued progress, senior U.S. defense officials say.

"As China's influence expands, there will naturally be areas where our national interests overlap. It is our desire that, through a policy of constructive engagement, those areas of overlap become opportunities for cooperation with the Chinese, rather than points of conflict," Assistant Defense Secretary James Shinn and Air Force Major General Philip Breedlove said in prepared testimony for the House Armed Services Committee.

The committee conducted an oversight hearing June 25 to determine the degree to which the United States is engaging with China and if China is responding with the necessary openness about its military intentions. "Although some progress has been made, China [has] still not adequately revealed its full defense spending, military modernization efforts or its strategic intentions," Committee Chairman Ike Shelton said in opening remarks.

Recent openness he saw while traveling in China and being briefed by Chinese military officials is encouraging, Shelton said, but it is not enough.

Shinn, who is assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs, and Breedlove, who is vice director for strategic plans and policy on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented the most recent edition of the Pentagon's annual report on Chinese military power.

Although positive steps have been taken in the relationship between the United States and China, there remains a lack of understanding about some of China's recent actions, especially the reason behind its military investments and lack of transparency.

According to Shinn and the annual China Military Power Report, the official budget of the Chinese armed forces this year is reported to be about $60 billion. "Our estimates suggest it's perhaps twice that, but we don't really know," Shinn said.

The buildup is modernizing all areas of the military including sea, land, and air forces, a process begun almost five decades ago. "It's also particularly significant that it includes the nuclear as well as the conventional forces," he said.

Given the country's rapid economic growth and market-driven economy, however, the military modernization should come as no surprise, Breedlove testified.

China agreed recently to begin submitting an annual report of its military expenditures to the United Nations. The depth of the report will show the international community China's future intention toward openness, Breedlove and Shinn said.

The United States continues to maintain a dialogue with China to encourage reduced tension in the Taiwan Strait, maintain and improve the U.S.-China relationship and encourage China's continued integration as a responsible power in the international system, they testified.

U.S.-China Relations

Shinn and Breedlove cited several recent developments, especially China's role in helping acquire a nuclear declaration from North Korea, to highlight the progress made between the two countries. Throughout the Six-Party Talks involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, there was close cooperation between China and the United States to end the nuclear threat and help eliminate nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

China hosted the talks, and was the first to announce North Korea's declaration June 26 in Beijing.

A direct telephone link was established in March between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and China's minister of national defense, General Chi Haotian, to improve communication between the two countries, promote military cooperation and avoid possible misunderstanding, they said.

"An important part of our military-to-military relationship has been focused on addressing transnational and nontraditional security challenges, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," Shinn and Breedlove said in their prepared testimony.

After brutal storms early in 2008 in China, the United States provided 6,000 winter coats, 1,657 blankets and 87,552 boxed rations worth $820,000 to the Chinese people. In May, after an earthquake devastated much of southwest China, the United States contributed $500,000 for disaster relief. The winter humanitarian relief prompted Chinese Major General Lihua Qian to say that the transfer promoted friendship between the two nations and militaries.

To combat bilateral concerns including drugs, piracy, infectious disease, environmental degradation and terrorism, the two countries must work together and establish a stable relationship, according to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Current economic ties and cultural and educational exchanges mark the beginning of this commitment, the report adds.

Other developments include a program launched in May for a U.S.-China exchange of environmental expertise; a partnership between the United States, Mexico and China to reduce drug trafficking; security cooperation for the 2008 Olympics; and a 10-year Energy and Environment Cooperation Framework signed in June.

An audiocast and prepared statements from the hearing are available from the House Armed Services Committee Web site.

The report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Peterson Institute for International Economics, "The China Balance Sheet," is available on a Web site of the two groups.


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