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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

US warns China on military build-up

The United States warned China Monday that its announced military spending boost was "inconsistent" with peaceful growth and hinted that Beijing was understating its defense expenditures.

"This kind of spending not only concerns us but raises concerns among China's neighbors. This is inconsistent with China's policy of peaceful development," said White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

"We hope they will demonstrate more transparency in the future," Johndroe told AFP by telephone.

He declined to elaborate, but US officials in the past have used such language to mean that they do not believe that China's declared military budget accurately represents their actual defense spending.

Johndroe's comments came after Beijing announced a nearly 20 percent increase in defense expenditures in 2007.

And Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Monday that China would continue to strengthen its armed forces, remarks applauded by military leaders who want to counter new threats and take back Taiwan.

"Building a solid national defense system and a powerful people's army is a strategic task in socialist modernization," Wen told the opening of the annual session of the National People's Congress, or legislature.

Wen made the pledge while addressing nearly 3,000 lawmakers a day after the Chinese government announced the biggest increase in its military budget in recent years.

Spending in 2007 will rise 17.8 percent from last year to 350.9 billion yuan (about 45 billion dollars), it said.

Reunification with Taiwan is one of China's long-term objectives, and analysts have said Beijing is beefing up its military partly to enable it to take the island back by force if necessary.

China and Taiwan have been separated since the end of a civil war in 1949, but Beijing considers the island a renegade province.

"Taiwan is our territory. Just look at history. Why can't we take Taiwan back?" said Tan Naida, a delegate from the National Defense University.

Since the beginning of the decade, Taiwan has been ruled by independence-leaning President Chen Shui-bian, exacerbating fears in Beijing that the island could break away for good.

At the US State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack coupled a warning against any steps that would "destabilize the status quo" with strong criticism of Chen's recent pledge to push for Taiwan independence as "unhelpful."

"We believe that any action that would destabilize the status quo or threaten that status quo are not helpful and we would like the parties to refrain from such activities," he said.

"As it is well-established, the US does not support independence for Taiwan," he said.

On Sunday Chen told a group of Taiwan independence advocates that "Taiwan wants independence, Taiwan wants to change its name, Taiwan wants a new constitution, Taiwan wants development."

Such rhetoric in the past has angered Beijing, and raised concerns in the United States, which has pledged to protect Taiwan from Chinese military aggression.

The comments from Washington came nearly two weeks after US Vice President Dick Cheney said that China's military build-up and recent test of a satellite-killing weapon were "not consistent with China's stated goal of a 'peaceful rise.'"

And US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has also recently expressed concern, saying late last month that he suspected that "the Chinese are spending more on their military than what will be reflected in the state budget."

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