Washington (AFP) March 8, 2011
US Senators mostly welcomed word Tuesday that President Barack Obama would pick Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as his new ambassador to Beijing, but noted US ties to China would face fresh scrutiny.
"Senators will always take their pound of flesh out of any nominee on China policy. The Beijing-Washington relationship is the most important diplomatic relationship on the planet," said Republican Senator Mark Kirk.
But Kirk, a proponent of engaging China, said he strongly favored Locke as the successor to Jon Huntsman, who is mulling a White House bid, and told AFP he should be "swiftly confirmed."
A US official said late Monday that Obama would pick Locke, who is Chinese American, and that the formal announcement could come as early as Tuesday, setting in motion the Senate's confirmation process.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Democrat whose panel is tasked with vetting ambassadors before a full senate vote, said he would keep mum until Obama makes the announcement official.
But Kerry recalled that Locke won unanimous Senate confirmation for his current post and said "he'll be fine."
The top Republican on Kerry's committee, Senator Dick Lugar, declined to comment.
Senators Jim Webb, a Democrat, and Jim Inhofe, the senior Republican member of the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs chaired by Webb, were also mum.
But other members of the full committee signaled their tentative early support for Locke, despite evident concern about Obama's handling of the US-China relationship.
"I just heard about it. I don't imagine it'll be controversial," said Republican Senator Roger Wicker, who added that "there certainly will be some questions" about the president's policies.
Republican Senator Johnny Isakson simply said "I like Secretary Locke," while Republican Senator Jim Risch said "clearly he's a good guy," though cautioning he was "ambivalent at this point" due to questions about US ties to Beijing.
"He'll come in front of the committee, I'll have questions for him," said Risch.
US lawmakers have an array of worries about China's rising economic, diplomatic and military clout which have fueled concerns in Washington amid deep anger at what critics charge are predatory trade policies.
The US Congress has repeatedly urged Obama to take a harder line on Beijing's alleged currency manipulation to make its products artificially cheap, as well as widespread intellectual property theft.
Lawmakers have also pressed the Obama administration to slap sanctions on Chinese firms they say are undermining US and international sanctions imposed on Iran over its suspect nuclear program.
earlier related report
The respected International Institute for Strategic Studies said that despite the effects of the global financial crisis, the 7.5 percent growth in the Chinese defence budget in 2010 was greater than most countries.
Such growth "continued to provoke concern", the London-based group said in its "Military Balance 2011" study.
However, it said China's primary focus was regional, pointing to the status of Taiwan -- which Beijing still claims as part of its territory to be reunified by force if necessary -- and disputes in the East and South China Seas as Beijing's overriding concerns.
"By and large, China remains a regional power with regional concerns, as demonstrated in 2010 by a series of exercises, construction projects and equipment purchases," it said.
But the report underlined that the world's military powers were watching China warily as it begins "tentatively to explore operations further afield".
Those concerns heightened on Friday when China announced a double-digit rise its defence budget in 2011, with spending to increase 12.7 percent to 601.1 billion yuan ($91.5 billion).
That was a return to normal service for China -- the 7.5 percent rise last year broke with a multi-year trend of double-digit percentage increases in Chinese military spending.
The IISS said however that China's goal of closing the technological gap with the West could be undermined by "serious structural weaknesses".
"One overarching problem is the widespread duplication and balkanisation of industrial and research facilities," it said.
Factories producing arms are scattered around the vast country "and often possess outdated manufacturing and research attributes", it said.
Elsewhere in Asia, the IISS said North Korea's military ranks as the fourth-largest in the world, with only China, the United States and India ahead of it.
Approximately five percent of North Korea's estimated population of 24 million are active military personnel "and these forces are equipped with a substantial array of military equipment", the study says.
The North sparked regional security fears in November when it disclosed an apparently functional uranium enrichment plant to visiting US experts.
The announcement raised concerns that the reclusive Stalinist state could produce highly-enriched weapons-grade uranium on top of the plutonium it already possesses.
The IISS said North Korea -- which has carried out two nuclear weapons tests -- has enough plutonium to produce four to eight warheads.
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Chinese military growing fast but concerns 'regional': IISS
London (AFP) March 8, 2011
China is building its military capability at a rapid pace but it remains a "regional power with regional concerns", the think tank IISS said in its annual report on the world's armies Tuesday. The respected International Institute for Strategic Studies said that despite the effects of the global financial crisis, the 7.5 percent growth in the Chinese defence budget in 2010 was greater than m ... read more
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