BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s military buildup poses no threat to the world, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said on Tuesday, in an effort to allay fears among Asian neighbors amid long-running maritime disputes.
The United States, Japan and many other Southeast Asian states have frequently expressed worries about China’s double-digit defense spending increases and expanding naval reach, saying Beijing’s plans lack transparency.
“There is absolutely no need for that,” Liang told Reuters, when asked about neighbors’ concerns.
“The Chinese military must develop, but there’s no ‘worry’ or ‘fear’ as the outside world says,” he said before a meeting with visiting U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. “That’s not what China is about.”
China’s growing military influence has coincided with a more assertive diplomatic tone, evident in rows with Japan and Southeast Asia over disputed islands. China has also told the United States, with President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, not to get involved.
Liang, speaking at China’s Defense Ministry, stressed the need for cooperation between Beijing and Washington, which has called on China to share more about its military ambitions.
“We should develop the ties between us, between our two militaries, touch on some of our differences, resolve conflicting views,” Liang said before meeting Mabus.
“We should push forward the development of our two powers, and push forward the development of a new China-U.S. military relationship,” he said. “Our two countries’ ties are very important.”
The modernization of China’s army in particular has raised concern in the region. China’s People’s Liberation Army, which encompasses all branches of the military, has launched a new wave of technology and hardware this year.
It has test-flown its first two stealth fighters, and launched its first aircraft carrier, which it bought from Ukraine and refurbished. This month, it unveiled a new attack helicopter.
China has also been raising its profile in the South and East China Seas this year, reasserting its sovereignty over islands or waters also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan and others.
China ushered in a new generation of leaders this month at the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, with outgoing President Hu Jintao making a pointed reference to strengthening China’s naval forces, protecting maritime interests and the need to “win local war”.
Both Vietnam and the Philippines have previously complained about Chinese activity and even harassment in contested parts of the South China Sea.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim territory in the sea, which covers important shipping routes and is thought to hold untapped oil and gas reserves.
China’s claim is by far the largest, forming a vast U-shape over most of the sea’s 648,000 square miles (1.7 million square km), including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.
Sino-Japanese relations are also under strain after the Japanese government bought disputed islands, triggering violent protests and calls for boycotts of Japanese products across China.
Reporting by Terril Yue Jones, Editing by Sui-Lee Wee and Nick Macfie