Rumsfeld Says Beijing Is on the Right Path
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld on Saturday struck a conciliatory tone on China, saying he was encouraged that Beijing was on a path toward being more transparent in its military intentions.
His remarks, at an annual gathering of Asian defense ministers here, were a significant departure from his strong rebuke of Chinese military spending at the same conference a year ago. He used the occasion then to warn that Beijing’s obfuscation of its strategic ambitions threatened regional stability.
The change in tone comes amid renewed Bush administration efforts to win Chinese agreement on a diplomatic course that could lead to United Nations sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend its nuclear program.
Rumsfeld insisted that his remarks were not tied to the administration’s new initiatives regarding Iran, and denied any shift in administration policy.
“I didn’t notice any tone change,” he told reporters.
But unlike last year, when he devoted the bulk of his remarks to China’s attempts to upgrade its weapons technologies, Rumsfeld’s address Saturday mentioned China only briefly and in much more muted tones.
Responding to questions from Asian government officials and academics after the address, he was even more conciliatory. He said China was increasingly engaged with the international community, a trend he said he believed would lead Beijing to be more open with its strategic intentions in order to foster continued economic investment.
“I’m encouraged that’s the path we’re on,” he said. “It’s a constructive path.”
A senior Pentagon official traveling with Rumsfeld said the shift in tone from a year ago was intentional and intended only to prevent bilateral issues with Beijing from overshadowing other regional security issues.
“He didn’t come here to belabor the issue again,” the official said. “He did not want this to dominate the issues here.”
Rumsfeld had hoped to make this annual conference, organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, a major forum to discuss Asian defense policy. He had asked Beijing to send a high-level military delegation, but conference organizers said it only sent two mid-level Foreign Ministry officials.
Although Rumsfeld repeated his desire to see China further “demystify” its military intentions, he also went out of his way to say he did not believe Beijing would use force against Taiwan, long the thorniest defense issue in U.S.-Chinese relations.
“They say they see a world where Taiwan and China are one on a peaceful basis,” he said. “I take them at their word.”
The Pentagon has issued a series of reports that cast a more skeptical eye toward Beijing’s defense efforts. Last month, in its annual report to Congress on China’s military power, the Defense Department said U.S. analysts were surprised by the pace and scope of China’s military modernization program. It said the advances were aimed at bolstering the nation, in the Taiwan Strait as well as in “other regional contingencies” such as potential conflicts over natural resources.
In February, a broader assessment of the United States’ prime military threats said that China “has the greatest potential to compete militarily” with the U.S., and warned that Beijing’s pursuit of “disruptive military technologies” could interfere with the U.S. military advantage in the region.
China has joined Russia in resisting U.S.-led efforts to impose U.N.-backed sanctions on Iran for resuming its nuclear program, which Washington and its European allies believe is aimed at developing a weapon.
On Thursday, however, both countries joined the U.S. and three leading European powers in agreeing to a package of incentives and penalties aimed at persuading Iran to suspend its nuclear program.