Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld began his first official visit to China on Wednesday by urging an audience of rising Communist Party leaders to play a greater role in global affairs, expand political freedom for the Chinese people and be more open about the nation's rapid military buildup.
In an address at the Central Party School, the top training facility for party officials, Rumsfeld cautioned against "another Great Wall" of limits on speech, information and choices and argued that China's future and the attitude of other countries toward it could depend on how its political system develops.
Speaking to reporters aboard his plane before arriving in Beijing on Tuesday, Rumsfeld said the United States welcomed China's emergence as an economic power, adding that "it's a country that we would like to see engage the world, as they are, in a peaceful and constructive way."
But he also gently challenged the secrecy surrounding China's brisk military development, saying it raised questions about whether the country was making decisions that served regional stability. "It's interesting that other countries wonder why they would be increasing their defense effort at the pace they are and yet not acknowledging it," he said.
Rumsfeld's comments echoed concerns he has expressed previously, most notably during a June speech on Asian security issues delivered in Singapore. He argued then that years of double-digit growth in Chinese military spending, and the Beijing government's reluctance to explain it fully, was generating suspicions and upsetting the balance of power in Asia.
The Communist government has rejected such criticism, noting that its military spending is minuscule compared with that of the United States and arguing that it has steadily increased military transparency over the years.
In a sign of the government's desire to respond to Rumsfeld's concerns, however, it has agreed to let him visit the headquarters of its most secretive military command, the Second Artillery Corps, which oversees an arsenal of conventional and nuclear missiles. Rumsfeld will be the first U.S. defense secretary to make such a visit, and U.S. officials are hoping Chinese commanders there will provide a more detailed briefing on the missile fleet than has been granted U.S. officials in the past.
U.S. officials had also asked that Rumsfeld be allowed to visit the Western Hills military complex outside Beijing, often described as China's Pentagon, but that request was denied.
During his three-day visit, which comes in advance of a visit to Beijing by President Bush next month, Rumsfeld is scheduled to hold talks with President Hu Jintao and Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan.
Chinese officials have been lobbying for a visit by Rumsfeld since he took office four years ago, and Rumsfeld acknowledged Tuesday that he probably would have made the trip sooner had U.S.-China military ties not been ruptured by the collision of a U.S. Navy surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet off China's coast in April 2001.
The crash resulted in the death of the Chinese pilot and the detention of the 24-member American crew for 11 days after they made an emergency landing on China's Hainan Island. Rumsfeld responded by breaking off and then limiting U.S. military contacts with China for several months.
In his talks in Beijing, Rumsfeld was expected to discuss expanding military-to-military contacts with China, including high-level visits, educational exchanges and naval port calls, but Pentagon officials have said no major breakthroughs or agreements were expected.