Seeking to counter US worries about his country's rapid military growth, a top Chinese general has said the communist-led nation's defense clout lags decades behind the US, and China wants warmer relations.
Gen Chen Bingde, whose position in Beijing is roughly the equivalent of chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, used a 45-minute speech at the US National Defense University on Wednesday to play down fears of Chinese intentions.
"Although China's defense and military development has come a long way in recent years, a gaping gap between you and us remains," Chen said through a Chinese interpreter. He added, "China never intends to challenge the US."
Chen made a similar point later at a Pentagon news conference with his American counterpart, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen.
"I can tell you that China does not have the capability to challenge the United States," he said, adding that China's wealth and military strength pales in comparison with that of the United States. He said China's navy is 20 years behind the US Navy.
Chen's remarks were in line with China's strategy of countering US fear of China as a military threat by emphasizing the limited scope of its military reach and advancing efforts to cooperate in areas like counterterrorism and anti-piracy.
Chen said he invited Mullen to make his first visit to China as Joint Chiefs chairman.
Chen and Mullen announced several agreements, including a plan for the US and Chinese militaries to conduct jointly a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise in 2012.
They also agreed to use a special telephone link to maintain communication between their offices.
The general told reporters that China's recent boost of investment in military power is "compensatory in nature," making up for decades during which modernizing the Chinese economy was given the first priority.
Washington often complains that China is too secretive about the purpose and exact scale of its military buildup.
To illustrate his point that China is not a threat, even to Taiwan, Chen noted that some Americans have demanded that China remove or withdraw ballistic missiles positioned on its southeastern coast, across from Taiwan.
"I can tell you here responsibly that we only have garrison deployment across (from) Taiwan, and we do not have operational deployment, much less missiles stationed there," Chen said.