SINGAPORE (AP) — The strength of China's armed forces is 20 years behind the U.S. and although the military is developing new capabilities, it is not a threat to peace in Asia, the Chinese defense minister said Sunday.
China's military won't be used aggressively against its neighbors, General Liang Guanglie said at an Asian security conference in Singapore.
"I know many people tend to believe that with the growth of China's economy, China will become a military threat," Liang said. "China will never seek hegemony or military expansion."
"This is a solemn pledge made by the Chinese government to the international community," he said.
Liang met Friday with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Singapore amid increasing high-level contacts between the militaries of the two countries. Gates told Liang that he believes the military-to-military relationship is "on a positive trajectory" after a series of setbacks in recent years.
Liang is the highest-ranking Chinese military official to attend the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, now in its 10th year. General Chen Bingde, China's chief of general staff, met with top U.S. military officials last month in Washington.
"China and the U.S. have made great progress in bilateral relations," Liang said. "All of us are very optimistic about the future of bilateral and military-to-military relations."
Liang sought to downplay recent increased Chinese military spending, insisting the nation's capabilities remain far behind those of developed countries.
"Our defense force is more modern and developed. However, there still exists a big gap," he said. "There's a generational gap."
China is working privately with North Korean officials to try to revive stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks that involve the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the U.S., Liang said.
"The work we have done with North Korea is much more than what the outside world may expect," he said. "We are trying to persuade them not to take risks."
Tensions between the two Koreas have jumped since two deadly attacks blamed on North Korea last year. The North has denied involvement in the sinking of a warship in March 2010 that killed 46 South Korean sailors and argued that a November artillery barrage that killed four people was provoked by South Korean firing drills.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said Saturday that any future attacks by North Korea would be met by a very strong response, and that Pyongyang is becoming increasingly bold in its provocations.
"The situation is moving toward relaxation, but the foundation remains fragile," Liang said. "We need to cool things down."
Last week, Google alleged that computer hackers in China had compromised the personal Gmail accounts of several hundred people, including U.S. government officials, military personnel and political activists.
Liang said China is paying close attention to the cyber attack problem.
"In China, we also suffer quite a wide range of frequent cyber attacks and it is hard to attribute the real source of the attacks," he said. "It's important for everyone to follow laws in terms of cyber security, and they should also apply to corporations."