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China calls for better military ties under Obama

world Updated: Jan 20, 2009 11:50 IST

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China on Tuesday urged President-elect Barack Obama to work with Beijing to improve its occasionally tense military relationship with the United States, calling on the Pentagon to "remove obstacles."

Sr Col Hu Changming, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, said China with one of the world's fastest-growing armed forces looked forward to smoother relations with Washington and its military, the world's largest.

"At present, when China-U.S. military-to-military relations are faced with difficulties, we call on the US Department of Defense to remove obstacles ... and create favorable conditions for the healthy growth of military relations," Hu said during a news conference held to present a major military policy paper. China remains opposed to US arms sales to Taiwan, and blocking formal independence for self-governing Taiwan remains the military's chief concern, the paper said. China also views separatist movements in Tibet and the far western region of Xinjiang as the biggest threats to the country's national security.

"On these matters, we will not compromise," Hu said. Defense sales to and relations with Taiwan have been an issue for every US president since Beijing and Washington established diplomatic ties 30 years ago. China considers the self-ruled island a part of its territory and supports reunification. U.S. arms sales to the island remain a major point of contention. Last fall, China's defense minister demanded that the U.S. cancel a $6.5 billion arms sale to Taiwan, including Patriot III missiles and Apache helicopters, and then suspended some senior-level visits and other exchanges in retaliation.

However, years of tension between the sides gave way to rapprochement following last year's election of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who favors a less confrontational approach to China. Hu said there had been major improvements in cross-strait relations, saying "the situation across the Taiwan Strait has taken a significant and positive turn."

China also said it considered the global economic crisis a threat to development and was concerned about possible competition among nations for energy and food.

The paper, which covered 2008, did not give any new spending figures for China's 2.3 million-strong armed forces for 2009. China had announced a military budget of $59 billion for 2008, up nearly 18 percent over the previous year. It was the 18th year of double digit growth of military spending in the past 19 years. Such lavish funding has allowed China to add cutting-edge fighter jets, missiles, submarines and surface ships, and the report said such efforts would continue, increasing capabilities as China moves to protect its expanding interests in other parts of the world. But it did not mention an aircraft carrier, the object of frequent speculation by observers of the Chinese military. A Defense Ministry spokesman last month said China would "seriously consider" building a carrier, while the recent deployment of a three-ship Chinese flotilla to fight piracy off Somalia has further bolstered those prophesying a major expansion of Chinese naval power.

Strategically, a carrier would serve to police the 1.16 million square miles (3 million square kilometers) of sea claimed by Beijing as its maritime territory.

The report also said China faced long-term security threats in Tibet, hit by anti-government riots last March, and the far-west region of Xinjiang, where a series of bombings and attacks struck just before the start of the August Beijing Olympics. Overall, the report said China's military enjoyed a successful year by continuing to modernize, while living standards in the country improved and society remained stable.

"China's national strength has increased substantially ... and the capability for upholding national security has been further enhanced," the report said.