BEIJING – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) on Tuesday accused China of understating the scope of its defense spending, and he said this is sowing suspicion about how China intends to use its growing military might.
Rumsfeld arrived in the Chinese capital for his first visit since he became President Bush's defense chief in 2001. He was scheduled to meet Wednesday with President Hu Jintao (search), who also is chairman of the Central Military Commission, which runs the Chinese military.
In an interview aboard his plane en route from Washington, Rumsfeld questioned China's motives in underreporting its defense spending. He mentioned no figures, but the Pentagon said last summer that China may be spending $90 billion on defense this year — three times the announced total.
"I think it's interesting that other countries wonder why they would be increasing their defense effort at the pace they are and yet not acknowledging it," Rumsfeld said. "That is as interesting as the fact that it's increasing at the pace it is."
Rumsfeld said the U.S. government welcomes China's emergence as an economic power, but he said that development has created "somewhat of a tension" for its communist leaders as they attempt to cope with new influences and ideas that inevitably enter the country along with foreign investment.
"China is an important country in the region; it's a country that's increasingly important in the world," he said.
Rumsfeld was also scheduled to meet Wednesday with the Chinese minister of defense, Gen. Cao Gangchuan, and to speak at the Central Party School, the Communist Party's top training center for mid-career members and its main ideological think tank. Hu was the school's president before he became the Communist Party general secretary.
Among the other topics expected to arise during Rumsfeld's visit: tensions over Taiwan, the self-governing island that China insists on reuniting with the mainland, and U.S. encouragement for China to use its influence with North Korea in six-party negotiations to end North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Bush administration suspicions about Chinese military motives were spelled out in a report to Congress in July. In it, the Pentagon asserted that China is assembling considerable military might.
"Analysis of Chinese military acquisitions also suggests the PLA (People's Liberation Army) is generating military capabilities that go beyond a Taiwan scenario," the report said.
In his remarks to reporters traveling with him from Washington, Rumsfeld said he would not have waited so long to accept China's repeated invitations to visit if not for the April 2001 collision of a Chinese fighter jet and a Navy EP-3 surveillance plane over international waters. The incident infuriated Rumsfeld, who responded by breaking off U.S. military contacts with China for a time.
The Chinese pilot died, and the Navy plane was so badly damaged that it made an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island. The U.S. crew of 24 was detained for 11 days. China refused to allow U.S. officials to fix the Navy plane and fly it off the island; eventually it was shipped home in pieces.
Rumsfeld said he looked forward to his Beijing meetings to learn more about Chinese leaders' vision of the future, particularly with regard to their military expansion and their willingness to share information.
China agreed to allow Rumsfeld to visit the headquarters of the strategic rocket forces at Qinghe, making him the first U.S. official ever to see the complex, according to Pentagon officials.
The Chinese, however, denied Rumsfeld's request to visit the Western Hills command center, an underground facility that serves as a national military command post. No foreigner is believed to have been inside Western Hills.
Rumsfeld told reporters on Monday that he was not disappointed that he would not see Western Hills. Of his hosts' decision not to permit the visit, he said, "It tells something about them."
Rumsfeld's visit, only the third by a U.S. defense secretary in the past decade and the first since 2000, is intended in part as a precursor to a trip that Bush is planning for November.
The second stop on Rumsfeld's Asia tour will be South Korea (search), where there are signs of trouble in an alliance that has kept thousands of U.S. troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula (search) for decades. Rumsfeld made clear in his remarks to reporters that he favors a readjustment of roles and responsibilities.
"It's been 50-plus years since the war ended," he said, referring to the 1950-53 Korean War in which the United States fought on the side of the south and China intervened to support the north.
"It is time for the Republic of Korea to assume a larger role and responsibility" for its own defense, he said.