US frustrated over China's refusal to come clean on nuke capability

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Washington, Sept.5 : Pentagon officials have claimed that China continues to resist disclosing details of its strategic nuclear weapons programs despite both governments having had several exchanges and discussions in the past two years.

The Washington Times quoted one unnamed defense official as saying that Beijing has adopted stalling tactics, which has left Washington quite frustrated over what he called excessive secrecy and a lack of dialogue.

One factor responsible for the current stalemate on the issue has been the absence of a visit by General Jing Zhiyan, the commander of China's nuclear forces, to the U.S. Strategic Command or the United States despite President Hu Jintao having made a promise to do so in 2006.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the nuclear discussions are going slowly, but making progress.

"At the suggestion of Defense Secretary Gates during his trip to Beijing last fall, the U.S. and Chinese militaries have agreed to expand our exchanges and deepen our dialogues, including regarding nuclear policy and strategy," he said.

"Those discussions are helping us better understand each other and reduce the risk of miscalculation. Of course, they are in their early stages, and this process is going to take considerable time, but so far at least it is going better than we had anticipated," he added.

U.S. officials familiar with the talks said the Chinese have refused to visit Stratcom and that discussions so far have been tightly scripted.

The officials said they think China fears that revealing even very basic data would provide intelligence that could be used to counter Chinese nuclear forces.

Some U.S. officials think China does not have a prepared nuclear strategy for its relatively small but growing nuclear arsenal. Additionally, China's strategic policy on stockpiling missiles remains unknown.

The Pentagon also does not know whether China has multiple warhead missiles or whether it is adding warheads to single-warhead missiles.

The Pentagon's latest annual report on China's military states that Beijing is increasing both the number and the quality of its nuclear forces. It estimates that the current force includes about 60 long- and medium-range nuclear missiles.

China's military, for its part, views the dialogue with the Pentagon as a way to try to limit the number of U.S. missile defense interceptors, both on land and at sea, so that China's missiles will not be countered by a future expanded U.S. missile defense system, U.S. officials said.

A Chinese embassy spokesman said the issue of U.S.-China nuclear talks is "very sensitive" and declined to comment.

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