Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld complained to Chinese leaders on Wednesday that they have been sending "mixed signals" about what kind of relationship they want with the United States, citing a series of diplomatic snubs in Asia and a tepid response to proposals for expanded military exchanges.
Speaking to a small group of mid-level Communist Party officials and then in extended talks with the Chinese defense minister, Rumsfeld criticized China's "seeming preference" for regional organizations that exclude the United States and a recent decision not to invite U.S. officials to participate in an East Asian summit organized by Beijing and planned for December.
Rumsfeld also cited joint military exercises that China conducted this year with Russia; a Chinese decision to exclude the U.S. military from multilateral search-and-rescue exercises in Hong Kong for the first time in three decades; and China's participation in a regional group that urged the United States to withdraw military forces from Uzbekistan in July.
Such actions, Rumsfeld argued, contradicted China's expressed desire for closer ties with the United States and, together with what he described as a rapid and secretive military buildup, raised questions about "whether China will make the right choices, choices that will serve the world's real interests in regional peace and stability."
"We see mixed signals," Rumsfeld said, on the second day of his official visit, "and we seek clarification."
At a joint news conference, the Chinese defense minister, Gen. Cao Gangchuan, rejected U.S. assertions about the pace of China's military buildup and denied that the government has been understating its defense spending. He said Chinese resources were focused on reducing domestic poverty.
"It is not necessary or even possible for us to massively increase the defense budget," Cao said, though he acknowledged that "some funding" is excluded from this year's published budget of $30.2 billion. The Pentagon says true Chinese military spending could be as high as $90 billion.
Despite the lingering dispute, Rumsfeld said he and Cao had agreed to take a "personal interest" in boosting U.S.-China military ties with educational exchanges and joint activities, adding that such interactions would "contribute to demystifying what we see of them and what they see of us."
President Hu Jintao, speaking prior to a closed-door meeting with Rumsfeld later in the afternoon, said improving military ties will "play an important facilitating role in promoting the growth of our relationship as a whole."
Hu's government granted a long-standing U.S. request to allow Rumsfeld to visit the headquarters of China's most secretive military command, the Second Artillery Corps, which oversees the nation's strategic nuclear missile force. Eric Ruff, a U.S. spokesman, described the visit as a "very welcome step" toward improving military relations and said Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, commander of the Second Artillery, told Rumsfeld he was the first foreigner to ever enter the facility, located outside of Beijing.
Jing and his staff briefed Rumsfeld on the command's organization and mission, and discussed, among other issues, Rumsfeld's questions about whether China's nuclear weapons were safe and secure, Ruff said.
Jing also disavowed a recent public statement by another Chinese general that China might target the United States with a nuclear strike if it intervened in a war over Taiwan, calling the statement "groundless" and reaffirming China's policy of never being the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.