China's top military officer said Wednesday that his country lacked the equipment and directives necessary to challenge the U.S. militarily.
"Through my visit over the past couple of days in the United States, I am surprised by the sophistication of the U.S. military, including its weapons and equipment and doctrines and so on," People's Liberation Army leader General Chen Bingde said. "I can tell you that China does not have the capability to challenge the United States. As a matter of fact, the reconnaissance activities along China's coast by U.S. military aircraft and vessels are seen in China as deterrents."
For emphasis, the general added, "What I'm trying to say is that we do not have the capability to challenge the United States."
Chen made the comments at a joint Pentagon press briefing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, in response to a question about potential exaggerations in some U.S. media circles regarding China's military capability. The briefing followed two days of what both military leaders described as positive meetings about U.S.-China military relations.
The issue arose again later in the conference, when Mullen was pressed by Chinese media as to whether the U.S. has overhyped threats posed by China.
"I think part of the discussions, and General Chen spoke to this, is his view of how far ahead the United States is technically," Mullen responded. "I think the opportunity that is presented by virtue of us meeting and having discussions is to validate our assumptions about each other, and make adjustments accordingly."
Questioned why, if China in fact poses no threat, the PLA takes potentially aggressive actions like the stealth fighter test flight that occurred during a January visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Beijing, Chen took his argument even further.
"As it is known to all, the United States is a super-power in the world today; how can China easily have the ability to challenge it? That is simply not part of Chinese culture and we do not have that capability. We would strive for world peace, civility and development and well being of the whole humankind...The United States has far more advanced weapons and equipment."
Chen took some exception to the accusation, insisting the routine test flight was not targeted at Gates' visit, and questioned why similar issues were frequently raised to China but not the United States.
The general insisted, "After 30 years of reform and opening up, China's economy has made tremendous progress and we are now the world's second-largest economy...Our efforts to grow our economy is to ensure that the 1.3 billion people are better off. We do not want to use the money to buy equipment or advanced weapons systems to challenge the United States."
During his weeklong visit to Washington, Chen also met with Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and delivered a speech to the National Defense University, where he said the only time U.S.-China military relations go bad is when the United States does not respect China's core interests, like a long-standing issue over Taiwan's sovereignty.
The trip has raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers are concerned about the sensitive U.S. military bases Chen and a group of his officers were invited to see. Several congressional officials suggest the visit runs counter to a 2000 law designed to limit such exchanges and prevent Beijing from bolstering its arms buildup.
General Chen closed the Wednesday afternoon presser by saying, "Admiral Mullen and I have had very friendly discussions, and we agreed on many things. It is my sincere hope that the U.S. media will also put China and the People's Liberation Army in a more positive light, to honor their reputation as objective press and media to the interest of both the Chinese people and people around the world."