BEIJING (AP) – The commander of China’s nuclear missile forces told Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday that in an armed conflict China would not be the first to use nuclear weapons.

Gen. Jing Zhiyuan, commander of the Second Artillery, which operates the country’s growing arsenal of nuclear missiles, offered the assurance while hosting Rumsfeld as the first foreigner to visit his headquarters, according to two U.S. officials who participated in the meeting. The officials briefed reporters afterward only on condition of anonymity due to the visit’s sensitivity.

They said Jing told Rumsfeld no foreigner had entered the command headquarters in its 39-year history. Rumsfeld signed a large, new and otherwise empty guest book.

The Chinese rejected a Rumsfeld request to visit their national military command center in the Western Hills.

Jing disavowed a recent public suggestion by another Chinese general that the United States could be targeted for a nuclear strike if it intervened in a conflict over Taiwan.

Rumsfeld aides who were present during the discussions quoted Jing as saying it was “completely groundless” to say China was targeting any country with its strategic nuclear forces.

Jing’s operations chief, Senior Col. Kang Hong Gui, gave Rumsfeld a briefing, complete with Microsoft PowerPoint graphics, on the command’s structure and missile forces training, without details about the numbers of Chinese missiles, some of which could strike points inside the United States.

Later, in a meeting with Rumsfeld at the Great Hall of the People, President Hu Jintao said the visit to the Second Artillery headquarters and Rumsfeld’s other discussions in Beijing will “help the military forces of our two countries to better enhance their mutual understanding and friendship.”

On his first visit to China as defense secretary, Rumsfeld delivered an address to the Central Party School and fielded questions from several students and faculty members. The school is a key training ground for people the Communist Party considers its rising stars and future leaders.

One professor told Rumsfeld that China hears “different voices,” or conflicting messages, from U.S. officials. Rumsfeld replied, “I hadn’t noticed that,” and then said it is China, not the United States, that has sent conflicting signals about its intentions.

“So we see mixed signals and we seek clarification,” Rumsfeld said.

Chinese officials required U.S. reporters to leave the room after the initial exchange, as planned.

In his prepared opening remarks, Rumsfeld said China is raising global suspicion about its military intentions by failing to acknowledge the true size of recent increases in its defense spending.

Later, at a joint news conference at the Ministry of Defense, Rumsfeld’s counterpart, Gen. Cao Gangchuan, said U.S.-China relations are strong, although he noted that it had been five years since an American secretary of defense visited China. He called Rumsfeld’s visit a “big event.”

Asked about the Pentagon’s assertion in a report to Congress last July that China has vastly understated its defense spending, Cao said it would be “simply impossible” to increase the budget on the scale cited by the Pentagon because China is focusing its resources on fighting domestic poverty.

“It is not necessary and not possible, actually, for us to massively increase the defense budget,” Cao said, speaking through an interpreter. He defended the accuracy of China’s report that its 2005 defense budget is about $29 billion, compared with the $90 billion the Pentagon claims is the true figure.

Even calculating it at a more recent exchange rate, the budget comes to $30.2 billion, Cao said.

“That is, indeed, the true budget we have today,” he said.

The atmosphere surrounding Rumsfeld’s visit appeared friendly and optimistic, with Cao saying the two countries have a broad range of shared interests and a solid footing for building cooperation.

Rumsfeld applauded China’s dramatic economic successes, noting that when he first visited Beijing in 1974 as President Gerald R. Ford’s chief of staff, the streets were filled with bicycles, not cars.

At the same time, Rumsfeld made clear Washington’s irritation with what he called China’s “seeming preference” for organizations in the Asia-Pacific region that exclude the United States. He cited the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which in July issued a proclamation calling on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawing its military forces from Central Asia. A short time later, Uzbekistan ordered all U.S. troops to leave its Karshi-Khanabad air base.



On the Net:

U.S. Defense Department: http://www.defenselink.mil

CIA Factbook on China: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ch.html

AP-ES-10-19-05 1807EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.