Chinese President Hu Jintao
on Tuesday urged the navy to prepare for military combat, amid growing regional tensions over
maritime disputes and a US campaign to assert itself as a Pacific power.
The navy should "accelerate its transformation and modernisation in a sturdy
way, and make extended preparations for military combat in order to make greater
contributions to safeguard national security," he said.
Addressing the powerful Central
Military Commission, Hu said: "Our work must closely encircle the main
theme of national defence and military building."
His comments, which were posted in a statement on a government website, come
as the United States and Beijing's neighbours have expressed concerns over its
naval ambitions, particularly in the South China Sea.
Several Asian nations have competing claims over parts of the South China
Sea, believed to encompass huge oil and gas reserves, while China claims it all. One-third of
global seaborne trade passes through the region.
Vietnam and the Philippines have accused Chinese forces of increasing
In a translation of Hu's comments, the official Xinhua news agency quoted the
president as saying China's navy should "make extended preparations for
The Pentagon however
downplayed Hu's speech, saying that Beijing had the right to develop its
military, although it should do so transparently.
"They have a right to develop military capabilities and to plan, just as we
do," said Pentagon spokesman George Little, but he added, "We have repeatedly
called for transparency from the Chinese and that's part of the relationship
we're continuing to build with the Chinese military."
"Nobody's looking for a scrap here," insisted another spokesman, Admiral John
Kirby. "Certainly we wouldn't begrudge any other nation the opportunity, the
right to develop naval forces to be ready.
"Our naval forces are ready and they'll stay ready."
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: "We want to see stronger
military-to-military ties with China and we want to see greater transparency.
That helps answer questions we might have about Chinese intentions."
Hu's announcement comes in the wake of trips to Asia by several senior US
officials, including President Barack
Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary
US undersecretary of defence Michelle Flournoy is due to meet in Beijing with
her Chinese counterparts on Wednesday for military-to-military talks.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last month warned against interference by
"external forces" in regional territorial disputes including those in the South
And China said late last month it would conduct naval exercises in the
Pacific Ocean, after Obama, who has dubbed himself America's first Pacific
president, said the US would deploy up to 2,500 Marines to Australia.
China's People's Liberation Army, the largest military in the world, is
primarily a land force, but its navy is playing an increasingly important role
as Beijing grows more assertive about its territorial claims.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon warned that Beijing was increasingly focused
on its naval power and had invested in high-tech weaponry that would extend its
reach in the Pacific and beyond.
China's first aircraft carrier began its second sea trial last week after
undergoing refurbishments and testing, the government said.
The 300-metre (990-foot) ship, a refitted former Soviet carrier, underwent
five days of trials in August that sparked international concern about China's
widening naval reach.
Beijing only confirmed this year that it was revamping the old Soviet ship
and has repeatedly insisted that the carrier poses no threat to its neighbours
and will be used mainly for training and research purposes.
But the August sea trials were met with concern from regional powers
including Japan and the United States, which called on Beijing to explain why it
needs an aircraft carrier.
China, which publicly announced around 50 separate naval exercises in the
seas off its coast over the past two years -- usually after the event -- says
its military is only focused on defending the country's territory.
|Liveleak on Facebook|