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China defends its military spending

Buildup is solely for self-defense, says a top general after criticism.

June 01, 2008|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

SINGAPORE — A senior Chinese general insisted Saturday that Beijing's military buildup was solely for self-defense, as he sought to assure a gathering of Asian defense officials that China was not seeking to dominate the region.

Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, the People's Liberation Army deputy chief of the general staff, pointedly said that any instability in Asia was being caused by countries seeking to expand regional military alliances and develop missile-defense systems -- a clear reference to U.S. aims in the Pacific.

"It is imperative China's armed forces keep up with this tide of world military development," Ma said. "China's growing economy and fiscal revenue make the defense budget increase both a logical and imperative reality."

He added: "China is a peace-loving country and its people are a peace-loving people. Notwithstanding the vicissitudes of the international situation, China will always adopt a defensive military policy."

Ma's remarks echoed assertions made by other Chinese leaders in recent months. But by delivering them at a major annual conference shortly after a keynote address by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Ma appeared to be seeking to directly refute long-standing U.S. criticisms on a high-profile international stage, a rarity for Chinese military leaders.

China only last year began sending senior military leaders to the annual Singapore security conference after repeated requests by the U.S. and other allies, who argued it was an important forum for discussions with wary neighbors.

Ma used the podium to make an almost point-by-point refutation of Gates' address, in which the U.S. Defense chief implied that China's secretive military buildup could lead to a regional arms race.

Ma said China's increasing defense spending was needed to keep up with military advances made by other governments and was no different from that of other rapidly growing countries that have used newfound prosperity to invest in weaponry.

A senior U.S. Defense official traveling with Gates said Ma did not bring up Pentagon criticisms of China's defense spending during a 15-minute private meeting with Gates later in the day.

"There was no pushback from Gen. Ma," the official said, adding that in previous meetings, the United States has tried to assure Beijing that its missile-defense partnership with Japan was aimed at North Korea, not China.

Despite Ma's public refutation of U.S. criticisms, American officials said they were pleased that China was participating in the debate on the issues, calling it a sign that Beijing was gradually acknowledging international concerns.

"What they're quibbling over is how much they're complying with the norm," the senior U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "That's a very different thing than saying it's none of your business, which is what they used to say."

--

peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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