By AUDRA ANG, Associated Press
BEIJING – The new commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific said he aims to build friendships in China, but added Saturday that the Communist power’s recent anti-satellite missile test appears to contradict its claim of a peaceful military rise.
Adm. Timothy Keating said he met with Gen. Guo Boxiong, China’s top general, and Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei in discussions aimed at “developing and reinforcing” friendships.
Keating said he and Guo exchanged views on Beijing’s anti-satellite test in January, when a missile was used to destroy one of its own old weather satellites in low-Earth polar orbit. It was the first time China had successfully tested an anti-satellite system.
“An anti-satellite test is not necessarily a clear indication of a desire for peaceful utilization of space,” Keating told reporters at a briefing. “It is a confusing signal shall we say for a country who desires, in China’s words, a peaceful rise.”
He said Guo characterized the test as “scientific in nature” and hailed it a success.
Keating said the U.S. was watching as China developed its capabilities across the spectrum of military operations, which have significantly improved over the past 20 years.
“They’re getting better,” he said. “That is of obvious interest to us and to everyone in the world.”
China’s People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest, has been spending heavily on adding submarines, jet fighters and other high-tech weapons to its arsenal, causing unease among its neighbors.
Its reported 2006 budget is $35.3 billion, but analysts believe the true figure is several times higher.
One of the apparent goals is building up China’s ability to back up threats to attack Taiwan, the self-ruled neighboring island that the Communist Beijing government claims as its own territory.
The two sides split during civil war in 1949 and China has threatened war if Taiwan takes steps toward formal independence.
Keating said he reiterated Washington’s adherence to the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 to Chinese officials. The act requires the United States to maintain sufficient force in the Pacific as a deterrent but does not require the defense of Taiwan by U.S. force if it comes under attack from China. The power to declare war rests with Congress.
Keating, who took up his position in March, said there were no immediate plans for joint exercises this year but that he hopes to continue to expand cooperation in that field.
Visits between the Chinese and American militaries dropped off after the collision of a U.S. spy plane with a Chinese fighter jet off China’s coast in 2001. But relations have improved recently.
Last September, two Chinese navy ships stopped in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii — the first visits to a U.S. state in six years. After Pearl Harbor, the ships went to San Diego for the first part of a search-and-rescue exercise that ended in November off the Chinese island province of Hainan.