U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Chinese counterpart agreed on Wednesday to step up military exchanges in what American officials said was a sign of a cautious opening by China's secretive military. Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan disputed U.S. assertions that China vastly understates its military spending, and the Chinese general took pains to try to explain Beijing's defense accounting, a U.S. defense official said.
Rumsfeld and Cao agreed to take a "personal initiative" to boost military educational exchanges, a senior Pentagon official said. Such contacts were key to "promoting the growth of our relations as a whole", Chinese President Hu Jintao told Rumsfeld in the presence of reporters.
Rumsfeld used his first visit to China since taking office in 2001 to urge the Chinese to be more transparent about their military and to open up their political system to dispel fears about their intentions and ensure future prosperity.
In what senior Pentagon officials said was a promising development, Rumsfeld became the first foreign official to visit the headquarters of China's Second Artillery Corps, a strategic missile facility at Qinghe outside Beijing, according to Reuters.
"We took it as a willingness to engage, albeit gingerly," said the Pentagon official. He said a Chinese general, Kang Honggui, gave Rumsfeld a PowerPoint presentation of the Second Artillery's organization and mission.
"This is an opening we've been looking for a long time," said the U.S. official.