China's military is growing, Rumsfeld says

China's military is growing as quickly as its economy and is a major buyer of weapons from Russia and other countries, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday.

Rumsfeld also said China's "less free" political system needs to open up along with its economy.

"It would be a shame for the people of China if their government did not provide the opportunities that freer economic and political systems permit," Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him to Singapore for an Asian security conference.

Rumsfeld plans to meet with at least a half-dozen ministers from Asian countries at the conference, including key allies South Korea and Japan. He said they will discuss issues such as terrorism, the shifting U.S. military presence in the region and North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

The defense secretary said he would not be offering any new initiatives on North Korea and will repeat Washington's calls for resumed six-nation talks on the issue.

"Our policy is what it is, and it's well known," Rumsfeld said.

The six-way talks to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear programs broke off a year ago and new meetings have not been scheduled. Tensions have inched up in recent months amid U.S. suspicions North Korea may be preparing to test a nuclear bomb.

Rumsfeld would not discuss whether the Pentagon is planning for military options if North Korea goes ahead with a nuclear test. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials have said they are worried such a test could set off a nuclear arms race in Asia.

Pyongyang announced it had nuclear weapons earlier this year during the lull in talks among the United States, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea. U.S. officials say they believe North Korea may have as many as six nuclear bombs.

Rumsfeld said he was encouraged by a recent thaw in the military relationship between major Asian powers India and China.

"I think it's important for countries in the region to have good relations with each other - military, political, economic," Rumsfeld said.

MATT KELLEY, Associated Press Writer

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