More exchanges and dialogues is William S. Cohen's prescription
to remove the shadow of suspicion between China and the United
States over defense spending.
"It was my suggestion (then), and I still think it's really
important we have the exchanges and it's important they become much
deeper, more trusting and more sharing," the former US secretary of
defense told China Daily recently.
Though he was in Beijing in his present capacity as a
businessman, he had the opportunity to discuss bilateral issues
with Chinese government officials, including former deputy chief of
staff of the People's Liberation Army General Xiong Guangkai.
"We (Cohen and Xiong) discussed the nature of China's
relationship with the US and with the rest of the world, some of
the challenges China faces both economically and certainly from a
military perspective how should the rest of the world see China's
growing military capabilities, and how should that be viewed with
expectation and apprehension," Cohen said.
"China is certainly emerging as an economic power, and it will
grow as a military power (too) because it is modernizing its
military. That's all the more reason why we need to have greater
contacts with each other."
Cohen first visited China in 1978 when he was a senator from the
state on Maine. The US delegation that included four other senators
met with late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. Cohen used that visit
to explore Beijing by riding a bicycle through its streets.
During his tenure as US defense secretary, Cohen reversed the
trend of a steady decline in defense budgets, which had begun in
the 1980s. That was also the time when he advocated stronger
military ties with China. He holds the same view even today,
stressing the importance of reciprocal visits as part of military
China and the US should "seek ways to identify areas of mutual
interests and find ways to cooperate", he said.
"Taking one step at a time, let us reduce the suspicions, let's
see (whether) there are areas of mutual interests There are ways in
which our two militaries can obviously talk to each other to make
sure there is no miscommunication or misunderstanding - because
when you have two great military powers and they have a
misunderstanding, the consequence could be serious."
The best way to reduce friction is to have more interaction, he
said. "It's very important we continue and deepen them."
Referring to the recent increase in China's defense budget,
Cohen said more disclosures and discussions can reduce the two
countries' uneasiness over one another's plans and intentions.
"It's all the more important because other countries are skeptical,
suspicious or wary of what you want to do."
China raised its 2007 defense budget early this month to 350.921
billion yuan (US$44.94 billion), up 17.8 percent over last year.
Responding to international concern, the Chinese government said
the thrust of the increase was to bolster the salaries and
allowances of the serving and retired personnel.
More money is needed to improve the living conditions of the
armed forces, the government said. Bettering drill facilities,
upgrading equipment and improving troops' capability to fight a
defensive war with the help of information technology, too, need
On the concluding day of the NPC annual session, Premier Wen Jiabao explained to reporters: "We have a
defense policy that is defensive in nature The limited armed forces
that China has are only to safeguard the country's security,
independence and sovereignty. On this matter, we are totally
China's defense expenditure is still much less than that of
major military powers, both absolutely and proportionately.
For instance, China allotted only 7.3 percent of its total
fiscal expenditures to defense in 2005, whereas the figures for the
US, France and Germany were 20.04, 11.41 and 9.2 percent,
That China's defense budget will grow with its economic
development and international stature is quite natural. Even Cohen
recognizes that: "China will continue to modernize its military" as
the country's stature and participation in international diplomacy
The hope abroad, he said, is that with its economic and military
growth, China will become "more integrated into the international
security environment" and serve as a stabilizing and positive
(China Daily March 20, 2007)