China and the United States plan to set up a defence hotline, one of Beijing's top generals said on Saturday, a move aimed at improving military relations as Washington grows increasingly wary of China's military buildup.
Zhang Qinsheng, deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, said the issue of a hotline between the Chinese military and the US Defense Department would be settled when he visited the United States in September.
"We will finalise the establishment of the hotline," said Major General Zhang, speaking through an interpreter at an Asian security conference in Singapore.
"We are prepared that in September this year during the ninth Sino-US defence talks, we are going to settle the issue."
Zhang, who was questioned by several delegates -- including former US defence secretary William Cohen -- over Beijing's military transparency, stressed China's policy of self defence at the conference, organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Zhang said China would never be the first to use nuclear weapons against another country.
But he raised concerns about a possible US-Japanese joint missile defence system in Asia which he said could "destabilise" the region. China, Zhang said, would strongly oppose it if the system covered Taiwan, the self-ruled island over which Beijing claims sovereignty.
Washington and Tokyo are studying a joint missile defence system with Australia to counter growing threats in Asia, a source from the Japanese government told Reuters last month.
They have already started installing a missile shield in and around Japan to ward off potential threats from North Korea.
Zhang slammed a Pentagon report, released last month, which disputed the size of China's military budget and stated that, while Beijing remained focused on the Taiwan Strait as a potential flashpoint, it also appeared to be looking to project its growing military strength elsewhere.
Beijing said in March it would boost defence spending by 17.8 per cent to about $45 billion in 2007. The Pentagon report cited US intelligence estimates that its total real military-related spending for 2007 could be between $85 billion and $125 billion.
"This report is unreliable. It's not to be believed," Zhang said, adding that the report was a "product of the Cold War mindset" and only served to present China as a threat to the international community.
Zhang said that China's increased military spending was justified, adding that the increase was to cover higher salaries and pensions, new uniforms, new military schools, and logistics.
"The published Chinese defence budget is true and authentic," Zhang said, according to the translation of his speech, adding that the increase portion of the defence budget "is mostly used to make up the retail price rise, improve welfare of the military personnel, and for better logistic support."
Zhang said China's military spending was justified because of the country's enormous size, and because Taiwan remained a threat.
(Additional reporting by Koh Gui Qing)