The United States is spending too much on its military in light of its recent economic troubles, China's top general said Monday while playing down his country's own military capabilities.

The chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, Chen Bingde, told reporters that he thought the U.S. should cut back on defense spending for the sake of its taxpayers. He was speaking during a joint news conference in which he traded barbs with visiting U.S. counterpart Adm. Mike Mullen.

"I know the U.S. is still recovering from the financial crisis," Chen said. "Under such circumstances, it is still spending a lot of money on its military and isn't that placing too much pressure on the taxpayers?"

"If the U.S. could reduce its military spending a bit and spend more on improving the livelihood of the American people ... wouldn't that be a better scenario?" he said.

The visit by Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the first of its kind in four years. Mullen and Chen are trying to upgrade military-to-military ties after setbacks over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, cyberattacks traced to China and concern about Beijing's military plans.

Chen made a similar trip to the U.S. in May as part of efforts to improve often frosty relations between the two militaries, especially as the economies of the countries become more codependent.

The world's two biggest economies frequently clash over financial issues, such as Beijing's resistance to exchange rate reforms and the ballooning U.S. trade deficit with China. Such issues are not usually at the forefront of military to military talks, though both sides chide each other for their defense spending.

China's military budget of $95 billion this year is the world's second-highest after Washington's planned $650 billion in defense spending.

Chen said China remains more than two decades behind the U.S. in terms of military technology and Beijing still needs to upgrade by adding new hardware such as aircraft carriers.

"China is a big country and we have quite a number of ships but these are only small ships and this is not commensurate with the status of a country like China," he said. "Of course I hope that in future we will have aircraft carriers."

Chen said U.S. military exercises with the Philippines and Vietnam in the disputed South China Sea were inappropriate because of heightened tensions in the region, while Mullen defended the operations as routine.