“China is investing in very high-end, high-tech capabilities and the question that is always out there is to try to understand exactly why,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The opaqueness of that, tied to our lack of relationship, is something I’d like to see if we can crack open,” he told reporters, stressing the importance of direct military relations between the United States and China to defuse any potential problems that could escalate into violence.
The J-20, China’s first radar-evading combat aircraft, had its inaugural flight on Tuesday as US Defense Secretary Robert Gates toured China.
The airplane appears to give “significant capability” to the Chinese military, Mullen said.
Military officials see the J-20 as China’s response to the F-22A Raptor stealth fighter. The United States is currently the only country to have an operational stealth fighter-bomber.
“The Chinese have every right to develop the military that they want, they’re a emerging, global country with global influence, as the United States does — we developed our capabilities to protect our interests,” said Mullen.
Mullen wondered aloud why China was boosting its high-tech weaponry, whether it was anti-satellite missiles or anti-ship missiles.
“Many of these capabilities seem to be focused very specifically on the United States so that’s why having this relationship is so important,” said Mullen.
The timing of the China’s J-20 flight co-inciding with Gates’s visit appeared to be a snub to Washington, fueling the sense of a military rivalry despite positive statements from both the Chinese and US governments aimed at defusing tensions over US arms sales to Taiwan and maritime disputes.
The incident illustrated Beijing’s confidence and also raised questions about the role of its military, as a senior US defense official said Hu and other top Chinese civilians apparently were unaware of the test flight.
Gates on Wednesday completed a visit to China aimed at convincing the Chinese to maintain a permanent military dialogue, similar to the relations Washington had with Moscow during the Cold War.
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