Gates to seek help on Iran nuclear issue

US defence secretary Robert Gates, making his first official visit to China, is expected to press the country to do more to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities.

US defence secretary Robert Gates, making his first official visit to China, is expected to press the country to do more to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities.

Before he left for the trip yesterday, Gates made it clear that he was pursuing a closer alliance with China and said he did not see the Communist giant as a military threat.

But senior defence officials said the Pentagon was still frustrated by China’s failure to be more open about its military ambitions and Gates will probably push China to better explain its anti-satellite test early this year.

In January, a Chinese missile shattered a defunct Chinese weather satellite, drawing immediate criticism from the US and other countries, which questioned China’s commitment to peaceful development in space. Since then, US officials have struggled to get better answers from the Chinese about it.

Both the US and China are touting the Gates visit as a major event, aimed at improving the two countries’ military relationship and building trust between them.

In a series of annual reports, the Pentagon has voiced growing concern about China’s increased military might and its reluctance to reveal why its annual defence budget has ballooned in recent years.

Derek Mitchell, senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said it appeared Gates was taking a different approach to his China visit than his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.

“Rumsfeld had no problem accentuating the differences between the two sides,” Mitchell said. “Gates is much more moderate, and he’s talking more moderately in public.”

Gates will meet a number of top Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao.

Senior defence officials said Gates was likely to bring up the Iranian issue.

“We think China could do more on Iran,” said one of the officials, adding that the US and China had a common responsibility to do what was necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capability.

Gates’ visit to China kicks off a three-country Asia tour, which will also include stops in South Korea and Japan.

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