September 26, 2008 / 4:59 AM / 12 years ago

U.S. Navy Sec concerned about China naval build-up

TOKYO (Reuters) - The United States is concerned about China’s naval build-up including submarine production because of a lack of clarity about Beijing’s intentions, U.S. Navy Secretary Donald Winter said on Friday, one day after a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was deployed to a Japanese port.

The USS George Washington arrived at its new home of Yokosuka, near Tokyo, on Thursday to replace one of the oldest active ships in the U.S. Navy.

“We are concerned by both the number of ships that are being constructed, but we are also concerned by what appears to be a lack of transparency ... because we just simply don’t understand the rationale for many activities they are engaged in,” Winter told reporters when asked about China’s military expansion, particularly in the Western Pacific.

“We are going to try to improve that understanding and at the same time to ensure we have adequate deterrent forces in the West Pacific, and that capability is clearly enhanced by the presence of the George Washington,” he added.

China’s military spending is budgeted to rise 17.6 percent this year, although Beijing has said its growing military prowess poses no threat. Japan has also repeatedly urged greater transparency over China’s military spending. Winter said the purpose of China’s submarine production was puzzling, so the United States had to be ready for the worst.

“My belief is that the more transparent people are relative to their intentions, the less destabilising military developments will be,” he said.

“Unfortunately, when we don’t understand what the intent is ... it’s very difficult to respond in any way other than considering the worst possible interpretation, because we have to be prepared for any eventuality,” Winter said.

Winters also sought to reassure local residents in Japan, the only nation to suffer an atomic bombing, that the George Washington was safe, stressing its reactors were “designed to be able to deal with the rigours of sea and the rigours of combat”. Concerns over the carrier were fueled in Japan by a fire on board the warship in May and news in August that water containing a small amount of radiation has been leaking for more than two years in Japanese ports from a U.S. nuclear submarine.

“I trust that over time, they will get more comfortable as they get more knowledgeable about the safety that is inherent in this configuration,” Winter said.

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