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Rumsfeld backs India to hit China

Singapore, June 3 (Reuters): US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned today 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 said.

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

Rapidly improving US-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 towards 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 US official, asked how much to make of the comment, said: “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.

Rumsfeld is the lead speaker at an annual security meeting, where regional defence ministers will discuss common concerns. He plans bilateral meetings with a number of his counterparts. Rumsfeld has not visited Beijing since becoming defence secretary in 2001. By contrast, Condoleezza Rice went there in March 2005.

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