In rare public comments, the Chinese military chief of staff told ABC News today that the United States should not be concerned about China's rapid military buildup, saying "there is no need to fear us."
"It is impossible for the U.S. to be afraid of our military development," said Gen. Chen Bingde, the chief of the General Staff Department of the People's Liberation Army.
"If you say the U.S. is afraid of our military development, then it means the U.S. does not have enough guts, it's easily scared, " he said. "We are not that capable. There is no need to fear us."
Chen's comments came shortly before he met with Adm. Timothy Keating, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific. Keating is in China for five days of talks with Chinese military leaders in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
Keating is visiting China to try to develop ties with the Chinese military. It's part of an effort, he says, to reduce the chances of potentially dangerous misunderstandings between the two biggest military powers in the Pacific.
"I want to develop a better sense of who they are and have them develop a better sense of who I am and who we are," Keating told ABC News.
Keating's visit is the first high-level meeting of American and Chinese military officials since China denied the USS Kitty Hawk access to Hong Kong for a scheduled port call. The United States formally protested China's actions toward the Kitty Hawk and two other smaller U.S. Navy ships that were denied safe harbor in Hong Kong during a storm in November.
Chen suggested that the Kitty Hawk and the other ships were denied entry to Hong Kong because the United States didn't follow proper procedures.
"Making a port call in Hong Kong and docking at your own port are two different things," he said. "Your ships can make port calls, but China's sovereignty must be respected. It should be done according to standard international procedures."
U.S. officials have expressed concern about China's rapidly growing military budget. Its defense budget has more than tripled over the last 10 years, including an 18 percent increase last year alone. The official defense budget for 2007 was $45 billion, according to the Chinese, although the Pentagon estimates that China actually spends more than three times that much.
Even with China's big increases in military spending, the United States spends far more than China on defense: $400 billion a year, and that doesn't include the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We don't' see the need to engage in military competition with the U.S.," Chen said. "The development of our military is aimed at protecting our motherland and defending the unity of the motherland. It is also aimed at contributing to world peace and unity."
"Although we have raised the level of our mechanized forces and our information technology, we still cannot catch up with the level of the U.S. military. We are learning from you."
Chinese military officers rarely speak publicly. ABC News asked Chen several questions while he was waiting to meet with Keating. After answering the questions, he said, "I admire your courage."