A United States military presence in the Pacific is essential to restrain Chinese assertiveness, Washington’s defence chief said on Friday, describing China’s technology advances as a challenge to US forces in the region.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates’s comments are likely to add to tensions over political and economic quarrels between the two superpowers just days before Chinese President Hu Jintao visits the US.
President Barack Obama hosts Hu for a state visit on January 19. US officials say Obama will raise geopolitical problems such as Iran and North Korea as well as trade issues that bedevil ties between the world’s two biggest economies.
Setting the tone for friction during the summit over the huge trade imbalance in Beijing’s favour, US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke complained on Thursday that China often failed to keep promises to open its markets and called for a “more equitable commercial relationship”.
Such differences would always weigh on ties, some Chinese analysts said.
“With irreconcilable interests, it is impossible to eliminate policy differences, which limits the good relations,” Wu Xinbo, a researcher at the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, wrote in the English-language Global Times on Friday.
“Today, China is disappointed, dissatisfied and confused by the series of hard-line policies against China in the second year of the Obama administration. China is worried that this is a sign of a current or future major reversal in US policy and strategy toward China.”
Gates, in Japan after a visit to China earlier this week, said in a speech that advances by China’s military in cyber and anti-satellite warfare technology could challenge the ability of US forces to operate in the Pacific.
While saying he did not see China as an “inevitable strategic adversary”, Gates stressed the importance of US military ties with Japan, where about 49 000 US military personnel are stationed.
Without the forward presence of US troops in Japan, China “might behave more assertively towards its neighbours”, he said.
Gates cited a territorial dispute between Japan and China that flared last year, calling it an example of why the US alliance with Japan was so important.
The warning came days after China held its first test flight of a stealth fighter jet while Gates was in Beijing on a trip aimed at easing strained military ties.
China also plans to develop aircraft carriers, anti-satellite missiles and other advanced systems which have alarmed the region and the US, the dominant military power in the Pacific. — Reuters