China's recent weapons advancements require Washington's attention and underscore the need to improve U.S.-Chinese military ties, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday (see GSN, Jan. 6).
"They clearly have the potential to put some of our capabilities at risk. And we have to pay attention to them, we have to respond appropriately with our own programs," Agence France-Presse quoted the Pentagon chief as saying as he traveled to Beijing for three days of planned meetings.
"My hope is that, through the strategic dialogue that I'm talking about, that maybe the need for some of these capabilities is reduced," he said.
China and the United States were seeking to demonstrate strides in relations between their armed forces ahead of January 19, when President Obama is slated to receive Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington, according to Agence France-Presse.
"It's pretty clear the Chinese wanted me to come before President Hu visits Washington," Gates said. "My own view is a positive constructive, comprehensive relationship between the United States and China is not just in the mutual interests of the two countries, it's in the interest of everybody in the region and I would say across the globe."
The nuclear-armed Asian nation has completed more work on its experimental stealth-capable J-20 fighter jet than was once believed, the defense secretary said.
"We knew they were working on a stealth aircraft," Gates said. "What we've seen is they may be somewhat further along in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had predicted."
Still, "there is some question about just how stealthy" the aircraft actually is, he said.
Gates said he had been wary of Chinese work on "antiship, cruise and ballistic missiles ever since I took this job" during the Bush administration. While China has made substantial progress on its new antiship ballistic missile, it was uncertain if the armament was completely ready for use, he said.
Gates said the defense spending updates he proposed last week would emphasize systems for addressing "antiaccess" armaments (see GSN, Jan. 7). The Obama administration's fiscal 2012 defense budget proposal calls for funding of a new nuclear-capable strategic bomber, among other systems (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, Jan. 8).
China's top defense official, though, today said his country's military systems were decades behind those of other powers and posed no danger to any nation, Reuters reported.
"The efforts that we place on the research and development of weapons systems are by no means targeted at any third country or any other countries in the world, and it will by no means threaten any other country in the world," Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said after meeting today with Gates (Ben Blanchard, Reuters, Jan. 9).
"We cannot call ourselves an advanced military country," the Washington Post quoted Liang as saying. "The gap between us and advanced countries is at least two to three decades."
Addressing Gates's call for extensive U.S.-Chinese military discussions on topics including nuclear strategy and North Korea, Liang said only that his country's armed forces were "studying" the proposal (John Pomfret, Washington Post, Jan. 10).
Gates and Liang agreed to establish a working group on examining the possibility of conducting more regular exchanges on strategic matters, the Associated Press reported.
"I come away from these meetings convinced that the [People's Liberation Army] leadership is as committed to fulfilling the mandate of our two presidents as I am," Gates said (Anne Gearan, Associated Press/Google News, Jan. 10).
Still, Liang did not rule out another Chinese suspension of military relations with the United States, the Post reported. Beijing cut off the ties in 2008 and 2010 after Washington indicated it would sell weapons to Taiwan.
Gates is scheduled Wednesday to make an appearance at the main office of the People's Liberation Army's Second Artillery Corps, which oversees China's strategic nuclear force (Pomfret, Washington Post).