U.S. Defense Secretary Harold Brown said today the Chinese do not want to buy large amounts of arms from the United States or other countries, for fear they would cost too much and make China too dependent on foreign suppliers.
Brown spoke to reporters while flying here after inspecting the Chinese F7 jet fighter, a version of the Soviet Mig21 whose cockpit instruments he said had been considerably improved by the Chinese.
His comments illuminated what appears to be a key element in a debate among American policymakers about the future prospects and wisdom of arming the Chinese.
After four days of talks in Peking, Brown said he heard no requests from the Chinese for U.S. weapons but indicated they wanted what he called "fundamental technology" such as computer and civilian aircraft designs, which could eventually help them develop their own arms technology and industry.
"As a part of modernization we are willing to transfer technology to them," Brown said. "It is up to them to use it as best they can . . . They understandably do not want to be in a position of acquiring whole weapons systems from other countries . . .
They can afford neither the financial cost, nor can they afford to be dependent on other countries . . .What they want to do is buy enough to make their own."
Brown and his entourage of Pentagon officials and reporters, shivering in 20-degree temperatures and freezing wind, watched an aerial demonistration by Chinese F6 jets at the 38th Fighter Division near Yangcuen, 50 miles southeast of Peking.He is the first U.S. official to visit the base, officials said.
Brown said the equipment he saw at the air base and at a Peking tank division yesterday "compare to the best of the United States and the Soviet Union perhaps a dozen years ago."
The Chinese ability to improve the Mig21 and the pride they take in strengthening their military indicated to Brown that they were moving toward "developing their own technology," he said. "It is not really feasible for them just to buy a few copies and then reproduce them because by the time they have done that it is likely to be obsolete."
Asked if the Chinese feared they would end up like Iran, loaded with American military equipment but unable to repair it because of a break in relations with Washington, Brown said: "That is not a bad example."
But he added that the example the Chinese remember is "their own experience with the Soviet Union" when Moscow pulled out all its technicians and advisers after relations between the two countries soured in the early 1960s.
Brown said he was certain the Chinese were developing an intercontinental ballistic missile and he expected them to make substantial progress in military modernization in the next five or six years. But to build up a truly modern force " is going to take a good deal more time," he said.
Asked to detail the complementary actions he expects Peking and Washington to take in countering the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Brown said only that "we have a convergence of views." The United States has taken action, he said, and "the Chinese will be doing something, but it is not up to me to say. I think each will know what the other will do and that will help the situation."
Brown is scheduled to visit a boat-building facility here Friday. This afternoon he visited the Hubel Physical Culture Institute, a special school for training athletes, and complimented the school on providing courses in history, economics and politics.
He thought special schools in the United States ought to do more of that "to prepare out athletes, actors and astronauts before they get into politics," a listener quoted Brown as saying.