Prague, 20 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- China today hailed Donald Rumsfeld's visit as an important first step in improving U.S.-Chinese military relations.
Kong Quan is a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry. "With this visit [by Rumsfeld], both sides have exchanged ideas on the Sino-U.S. relationship and the military relationship," Kong said. "It is a successful visit. It furthered communications between the two sides, and both sides have decided to push forward cooperation such as education and naval exchanges and other communications and cooperation."
But the U.S. defense secretary himself struck a more cautious tone. Speaking at the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, he said recent increases in China's defense budget have raised international suspicions about Beijing's intentions.
"To the extent that [China's] defense expenditures are judged to be considerably higher than what is published, neighbors, understandably, wonder what the reason might be for the disparity between what they believe to be is reality and the public statements," Rumsfeld said.
In comments made yesterday, Rumsfeld urged China to be more transparent -- reflecting a Pentagon report that China may be spending three times more on its military than its national budget declares.
"A growth in China's power projection understandably leads other nations to question [China's] intentions and to adjust their behavior in some fashion. The rapid and -- from our perspective at least -- nontransparent nature of this buildup contributes to their uncertainty," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld's comments reflect growing concern in the United States about a potential Chinese threat to global U.S. interests. The fear is that Beijing is adding -- sometimes covertly -- massive military muscle to its rapidly expanding economic power.
The Chinese were quick to play down Washington's suspicions, claiming that different accounting practices explain the differences between the two sides' evaluation of Chinese defense spending. Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan said China's priority is economic, not military, growth.
But Washington's concern is not just that Beijing may be secretly boosting its defense spending. Rumsfeld complained about what he called "mixed signals" from the Chinese about U.S. engagement in Asia.
He singled out the role played by China and Russia at the July summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the demand for the United States to draw up a timetable for withdrawing its military forces from Central Asia. Apart from China and Russia, the organization includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Washington's suspicions of an emerging Chinese-Russian alliance that would exclude the United States from the region will not have been allayed by the arrival in Beijing, shortly after Rumsfeld's departure, of the secretary of Russia's influential National Security Council, Igor Ivanov.
Both China and Russia see the region as their sphere of influence and resent recent U.S. intrusions into the area.
But Vasilii Mykeev of the Center for Chinese, Central and North Asian Security in Moscow believes it would be a mistake to see the emerging triangular relationship between Russia, China, and the United States in exclusively confrontational terms.
"If we look at these two visits, we will see that China tries to become a global political power on the basis of its economic success. And it includes good political, security, and military relations, first of all with the United States. On the other hand, China also would like to establish good security cooperation with Russia, and that's why the secretary of the National Security Council visits China to discuss a new vision of how China plans to turn into a real global political superpower," Mykeev said.
The key, he believes, is economic growth and globalization. The more the Chinese and Russian markets grow, the more their economies and national interests will mesh with those of the United States.
It's a theory that has many subscribers -- though not perhaps in the rival military establishments of Moscow, Beijing, and Washington.