BEIJING – U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says China's rapidly developing defense capabilities are worrisome to the United States.
China has made strides in building a new stealth fighter jet and Washington is also concerned about a new ballistic missile that could theoretically explode a U.S. aircraft carrier nearly 2,000 miles out to sea. China has also apparently beaten U.S. estimates to develop that weapon.
Gates arrived Sunday in Beijing for talks about these weapons and other military issues with Chinese leaders.
"They clearly have potential to put some of our capabilities at risk," Gates told reporters traveling with him to Asia. "We have to pay attention to them, we have to respond appropriately with our own programs."
The United States has long known that China wanted to field a stealth jet, but development outpaced U.S. intelligence estimates, Gates said.
China is still years behind U.S. capabilities in radar-evading aircraft, and even by 2025 the United States would still have far more such aircraft flying than any other nation in the world, Gates said.
China says it does not pose a threat and its military forces are purely for defense — which in its definition includes deterring Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing claims as its territory, from declaring formal independence.
In an apparent nod to U.S. calls for more openness, China allowed video and pictures of last week's runway tests of its prototype stealth fighter to be taken and posted online.
Gates is trying to coax Chinese military leaders into more regular discussions with the U.S.
The Pentagon is focusing scarcer defense dollars on ways to counter the kinds of weapons China is now building. For example, Gates said recently he wants to spend more on a new long-range nuclear bomber and updated electronics gear for the Navy that could throw an incoming missile off course.
Gates will also visit South Korea for talks about averting war with the North, as well as Japan, which is alarmed by Chinese military moves.
The invitation to visit Beijing was a coup for Gates, who invited a Chinese counterpart for similar talks and a visit to the U.S. nuclear weapons headquarters in 2009.