Rumsfeld warns China on lack of democracy

(Gold9472: Hello pot, this is kettle)

By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
Fri Jun 3, 2005 7:11 AM ET

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned on Friday that China's failure to match economic freedoms with democratic reforms could raise tensions and undermine its growing influence in the world.

On way to a regional security conference that is expected to focus on China and North Korea, Rumsfeld drew a stark contrast between China and India, the world's largest democracy, which America is courting as a counter-weight to the communist nation.

"We anticipate that the relationship with India will continue to be strengthened. With respect to China, it's not completely clear which way they are going because you have the tension I characterised between the nature of their political system and the nature of their economic system," he told reporters.

But Rumsfeld also said he is making plans for his first visit to China as Pentagon chief later this year.

Rapidly improving U.S.-India ties are driven largely by relations between the two militaries, while the Pentagon's ties with China's army, badly damaged by the EP-3 surveillance plane incident in April 2001, are just now "evolving again in a way that's appropriate for the times," Rumsfeld said.

He also said the administration was re-examining its policy toward North Korea, which in February announced it possessed nuclear weapons and may be preparing a nuclear weapons test.

Rumsfeld gave no details but another senior U.S. official, asked how much to make of the comment, told Reuters: "A lot."

"It's a policy that we're reviewing, as we do understandably from time to time, as North Korea makes statements or makes announcements or does or doesn't get involved in six party-talks" about its nuclear activities, Rumsfeld said.

Six-party talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions have been stalled for a year. Washington is frustrated and U.S. officials have begun to talk more openly about possible "other options" toward the communist state.

A June 10 White House meeting between President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun could be crucial.

Rumsfeld is the lead speaker at an annual security meeting, where regional defense ministers will discuss common concerns. He plans bilateral meetings with a number of his counterparts, including those from South Korea and Japan.

Although managing China's rising power is an important U.S. objective, Rumsfeld has not visited Beijing since becoming defense secretary in 2001. By contrast, Condoleezza Rice went there in March 2005, soon after becoming secretary of state.

"I plan to get to China sometime later this year. We're looking at dates now," Rumsfeld said.

Daniel Blumenthal, a former Pentagon official, said it was understandable that wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus the EP-3 incident -- when a Chinese jet forced a U.S. surveillance plane to land on Hainan island and the crew was held hostage for 11 days -- kept Rumsfeld from an early visit to Beijing.

Even now, China does not appear very receptive to what could be key areas of military cooperation with Washington, including joint search and rescue missions, said Blumenthal, now with the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

The Pentagon will soon issue its annual report on China's military modernisation, which is expected to repeat U.S. concerns that Beijing in rapidly building a battery of ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan and spending freely on advanced weaponry.

Some analysts say the military balance is tipping in China's direction and against the self-governed island Beijing insists must be united with the mainland.

"India clearly is a major power ... It has a democratic political system. It has a relatively free economic system. We have what I would characterise as an excellent relationship with India. From a mil-to-mil (military-to-military) standpoint, it has improved and strengthened every year," Rumsfeld said.

While China's economy has opened up, "their political system is less free and I suspect that over a period of some years there will be a tension there. To the extent that (China) leans toward a freer political system they will be a considerably more successful country and a more influential country. To the extent they fail to do that, they'll be pressures against their economy. They will grow less fast and they will be a less influential country," he said.

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