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China sending `mixed signals' with military buildup, Rumsfeld says

BEIJING—Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told China on Wednesday that it's sending "mixed signals" to the world by cloaking the rapid expansion of its military in secrecy.

In his first visit to China as defense secretary, Rumsfeld engaged in a series of candid exchanges with senior Chinese leaders and made an unprecedented visit to a top-secret strategic missile base outside the capital.

Talks between Rumsfeld and his Chinese counterpart led to agreements to improve military relations, which had been seriously ruptured in 2001 after the midair collision of a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter escalated into a crisis, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

After meeting with Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan, Rumsfeld said Sino-U.S. military exchanges need to intensify "to demystify what we see of them and what they see of us."

Rumsfeld began the day warning students and faculty at the Central Party School, a training ground for midlevel communist cadres, that U.S.-China relations are "complex and full of challenges" and that the scale of China's military buildup had wrought suspicions.

"Many countries, for example, have questions about the pace and the scope of China's military expansion," Rumsfeld said. "The rapid, and—from our perspective at least—nontransparent nature of this buildup contributes to their uncertainty."

In a question-and-answer session afterward, one professor told Rumsfeld that China hears conflicting messages from Washington, with senior officials offering different opinions. Rumsfeld responded that it's China, not the United States, that has sent conflicting signals by not being more transparent about its military operations.

"So we see mixed signals and we seek clarification," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld, dressed in a dark gray suit, walked with Cao, who wore his uniform, past an honor guard before entering the Defense Ministry for extended private talks.

Later, Cao strongly rejected the Pentagon's claims that China understates its military spending. A Pentagon report in July said China may spend as much as $90 billion a year on defense, triple the official stated figure, yet still less than a fifth of annual U.S. defense spending.

"It is not necessary or even possible for us to massively increase the defense budget," Cao said, noting that the country must spend money to pull millions of people from poverty. Even adjusting for exchange fluctuations, China's stated military budget of $30.2 billion for this year is "indeed the true budget."

President Hu Jintao, who also commands China's armed forces, received Rumsfeld in an elaborate meeting room at the Great Hall of the People. He declared that he was heartened by news of Rumsfeld's "in-depth and candid talks" earlier in the day with Cao and Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, head of the strategic missile command.

"All of this will help the military forces of our two countries to enhance their mutual understanding and friendship," Hu told Rumsfeld, adding that the military relationship "will also play an important facilitating role in promoting the growth of our relations as a whole."

Rumsfeld's visit comes a month before President Bush arrives in China for consultations with Hu.

Although the United States and China have strong trade relations, military leaders view each other as possible adversaries. The two countries are the only major world powers that actively conduct war games over possible conflict.

Jing, head of the strategic missile forces at Qinghe outside Beijing, told Rumsfeld's delegation during a tour of the facility that China hasn't changed its policy of "no first strike" with nuclear weapons.

In July, a Chinese general told foreign reporters that China would use nuclear weapons against the United States if it intervenes in China's crisis over Taiwan, which China claims as its territory. The general at the time said China would be willing to suffer devastating losses but would counter by wiping out "hundreds" of American cities.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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