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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

US Asks China To Be Open With Military Ties With Southeast Asia

Agence France-Presse
Nov 1, 2006 - 9:32:34 AM

Washington: The United States asked China Monday to be transparent with military cooperation it wants to expand with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said at a one-day summit with leaders of the 10-member ASEAN grouping in Beijing on Monday that he wanted to deepen military ties with Southeast Asia.

"Although ASEAN itself is not a security organization, engaging other countries and other militaries in the region on security issues can be a positive step, so long as it is done in an open and non-exclusionary manner," the State Department said in a statement.

The United States is the dominant economic and military power in Southeast Asia and has been wary of Beijing's expanding influence in both the economic and defense spheres in the region.

The State Department said that based on its understanding of Wen's speech to the ASEAN leaders, he had called for increasing military dialogues and exchanges with the region as part of a broader program of dialogue on common security issues.

"Such military-to-military dialogue and engagement can increase transparency and promote stability," the department said.

"We encourage China to be more open about its military strategy, doctrine and budgets as it modernizes its military," it said.

A Defense Department report this year said China was spending two to three times more on its military than the 35 billion dollars a year it had acknowledged.

The report concluded that while Taiwan appears to be the near-term focus of China's military spending, the buildup poses a potential threat to the United States over the longer term.

China has consistently maintained that its military build-up was for defensive purposes only, while claiming that it has no history of invading other countries.

Wen had also pledged at the meeting with the ASEAN leaders to continue efforts to hammer out a code of conduct for handling territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

China and the ASEAN nations signed a non-binding 2002 treaty pledging peaceful conduct in the South China Sea aimed at preventing war over the disputed Spratly Islands.

But little progress has since been made on a specific code of conduct.

The islands, claimed as a whole or in part by six countries, have long been a flashpoint, mainly between China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Officials from ASEAN countries said before the summit that participants were expected to hold talks on a more specific code of conduct.

Wen also said nuclear-armed China was ready to sign on to an 11-year-old treaty declaring Southeast Asia "nuclear-free."

ASEAN in 1995 signed its agreement committing Southeast Asia to remaining nuclear weapons-free and has been trying to get China to sign as well.
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