Aboard A US Military Aircraft: The United States is not looking to "hold China down" but wants to forge a stronger dialogue with Beijing`s expanding military, Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters aboard his plane en route to Singapore, Gates said he was encouraged by recent signs of progress in security ties with China even amid a military build-up.
"We are not trying to hold China down. China has been a great power for thousands of years. It is a global power and will be a global power," said Gates.
"So the question is how we work our way through this in a way that assures that we continue to have positive relations in areas like economics and other areas that are important to both of us, and manage whatever differences of view we have in the other areas," he said.
Gates spoke a day before scheduled talks with Asian defence ministers at a Singapore security summit, including a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie.
On a final global tour before he steps down as Pentagon chief at the end of June, Gates said China`s military modernisation was "proceeding apace" and that Beijing was pursuing weapons that were "a concern to us”.
The weaponry posed a potential threat to US aircraft carriers, with China developing "long-range, accurate cruise and ballistic anti-ship missiles”, a larger Navy, a new stealth fighter jet as well as cyber and anti-satellite capabilities, he said.
However, the former CIA director said China was not trying to rival the United States as a global military power, and instead was focused on extending its reach in the Pacific.
"I think the Chinese have learned a powerful lesson from the Soviet experience and they do not intend to compete with us across the full range of military capabilities.”
"But I think they are intending to build capabilities to give them considerable freedom of action in Asia and an opportunity to extend their influence," he said.
Gates added: "That`s why I believe this strategic dialogue is so important."
In his first visit to China in 2007, Gates had laid out an ambitious agenda for building up military relations with China and acknowledged there had been challenges since then.
"It`s obviously hit snags and obstacles along the way. But I think we`re in a pretty good place now, pretty realistic."
US arms sales to Taiwan have been a recurring sticking point in the relationship, with China suspending ties after Washington has agreed to weapons deals with Taiwan.
Gates acknowledged that arms sales remained a delicate issue, but said the US government over the past several years had tried to" thread the needle pretty carefully" to balance Taiwan`s security needs with China`s concerns.
He also repeated his view that the Chinese military at times did not keep the Chinese political leadership fully informed about its "day-to-day activities”.
But he said the People`s Liberation Army had instructions to improve security ties with the United States.
"My impression is President Hu Jintao and the political leadership has basically made clear that they want this relationship with the United States to move in a particular direction and I think the PLA has been responsive to that."