HANOI, Vietnam – The United States has some concerns about a rising China, including a military expansion that may be excessive, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.
Beijing has spent heavily in recent years on adding submarines, missiles, fighter planes and other high-tech weapons to its arsenal and extending the reach of the 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army, the world's largest fighting force.
Its reported military budget rose more than 14 percent this year to $35.3 billion, but outside estimates of China's true spending are up to three times that level.
"There are concerns about China's military buildup," Rice told a television interviewer. "It's sometimes seemed outsized for China's regional role."
Beijing insists its multibillion-dollar buildup is defensive, but it has alarmed some Asian neighbors and U.S. military planners who see China as a potential threat to U.S. military pre-eminence in the Pacific.
Asked whether U.S. foreign policy toward China is aimed at containing China's ability to flex military power, Rice turned the question to politics and economics.
"U.S. policy is aimed at having China be a responsible stakeholder in international politics," she replied. "That means that Chinese energy, Chinese growth, Chinese incredible innovation and entrepreneurship, would be channeled into an international economy in which everybody can compete and compete equally."
Rice, in Asia with President Bush for a regional economic forum, said China's economic growth "has been a net gain for the international system." But she also ticked off a list of U.S. concerns including questions of economic fairness and China's record on human rights.
"There are concerns about a rising China, concerns about China's transition, concerns about whether the Chinese economy will in fact act in a way that is consistent with the level playing field that the international economy needs," Rice said in the interview with CNBC Asia.
U.S. concerns are manageable within a relationship she described as strong overall, Rice said. She visited China last month to shore up United Nations sanctions against China's ally, North Korea, and she credited Beijing with cooperation in opposing the North's nuclear development.
Bush and Rice were both meeting with their Chinese counterparts during this weekend's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
A congressional advisory panel on Thursday questioned China's willingness to be a more responsible international player, saying world prosperity depends on China's abandoning a single-minded pursuit of its "own narrow national interests."
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission made 44 recommendations in its annual report to lawmakers. It calls on the United States to combat Chinese attempts to isolate Taiwan by supporting the island's membership in various world bodies, and urges Washington to pressure Beijing to help end the bloody conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.
"While China is a global actor, its sense of responsibility has not kept up with its expanding power," said Larry Wortzel, chairman of the commission, which Congress created in 2000 to investigate U.S.-China issues.
The panel also admonished U.S. intelligence agencies, urging the United States to set up "a more effective program" for gathering information about China's military buildup and development.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said she had not seen the report, but "we are against the attempt by any country or any organization to interfere with China's internal affairs under the pretext of the Taiwan question and impede our reunification course."
The report said China's global reach extends beyond East Asia to the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and Latin America, where China "is coming to be regarded almost as a second superpower."