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China has right to develop military: Pentagon
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Dec 6, 2011

China has the right to develop its military but must heed US calls for full transparency, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

"With respect to China, they have a right to develop military capabilities and to plan, just as we do," said spokesman George Little, after Chinese President Hu Jintao urged the country's navy to prepare for military combat and advance naval modernization.

But Little added: "We have repeatedly called for transparency from the Chinese and that's part of the relationship we're continuing to build with the Chinese military."

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said separately: "We want to see stronger military-to-military ties with China and we want to see greater transparency. That helps answer questions we might have about Chinese intentions."

The Chinese president said in a speech to the Central Military Commission that the navy needed to transform "and make extended preparations for military combat in order to make greater contributions to safeguard national security and world peace."

"Our work must closely encircle the main theme of national defense and military building," Hu told the powerful commission, according to a statement on the government website.

His comments come after China said late last month it would conduct naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean, following a major diplomatic campaign by President Barack Obama to assert the United States as a Pacific power.

The announcement also comes against a background of growing tensions over maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific region, but another Pentagon spokesman, Admiral John Kirby, insisted: "Nobody's looking for a scrap here."

"Certainly we wouldn't begrudge any other nation the opportunity, the right to develop naval forces to be ready. Our naval forces are ready and they'll stay ready."

Hu's announcement comes in the wake of trips to Asia by several US administration officials, including Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

All of them stressed the key strategic importance of the Asia-Pacific region, in speeches eyed warily by Beijing.

"Clearly they're developing capabilities, air and maritime, that appear to be designed with the US Navy in mind. We would just continue to call for them to be more transparent about the capabilities they're developing," Kirby said.

"The peaceful rise of China is a good thing for the region, it's a good thing for the world. We seek, we continue to seek, we have sought a better military relationship with China and we'll continue to pursue that."

China's People's Liberation Army, the largest military in the world, is primarily a land force, but its navy is playing an increasingly important role as Beijing grows more assertive about its regional territorial claims.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last month warned against interference by "external forces" in territorial disputes including in the South China Sea, a strategic and resource-rich area where several nations have overlapping claims.

China claims all of the maritime area, as does Taiwan, while four Southeast Asian countries declare ownership of parts of it, with Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Chinese forces of increasing aggression there.

One of the key sources of dispute are the small Spratlys islands, whose waters are believed to be rich in oil and natural gas, and are claimed by China, as well as Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Beijing has also clashed with Hanoi over the Paracel islands.

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