China has said that it attaches “great importance” to developing military relations with its South Asian neighbours, but sought to assure that these were not targeted at any “third party.”

Winding up a five-day visit to Sri Lanka, Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie claimed that these close military ties were intended for “maintaining regional security and stability and not targeted at any third party.”

His remarks come in the backdrop of concerns voiced in Washington and New Delhi over Chinese intentions of stepping up military assistance and ties with countries in the Indian Ocean and Africa.

Mr. Liang’s visit to the island nation in the course of which he held meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and commanders of three services comes as Colombo sought Chinese assistance to improve military infrastructure in the country’s north and east where its forces battled Tamil insurgency for decades.

Sri Lankan officials said the visit during which China announced new grants to build and modernise Sri Lankan military training establishment had led to “closer cooperation” between the two nations.

While admitting that China was taking steps to modernise its armed forces, Liang said Beijing wanted to make greater contributions towards peace as a responsible member of the international community, according to excerpts of his speech carried by official Xinhua news agency.

Responding strongly to Western criticism that China indulged in hidden defence spending, Mr. Liang said Beijing’s defence expenditure was transparent and in years 2010-11 it spent only 1.4 per cent and 1.28 per cent of its GDP on defence which was very low when compared with developed countries.

The Chinese Defence Minister said the country’s military strategy was of “active defence” and not to “offend” others.

Citing recent tension with the Philippine over the Huangyan islands in the South China Sea, Mr. Liang said that though Chinese forces were mightier than Philippines, “but we didn’t use force.”

Referring specifically to relations with South Asian nations, Mr. Liang said among China’s 14 land neighbours, five were in South Asia and Beijing attaches “great importance” to its relationship with these nations.

He said the fundamental goals and tasks of China’s national defence is to curb separation, promote reunification, guard against and resist aggression, protect state sovereignty, territorial integrity and maritime rights and interests, and safeguard national development interests.

During the visit Mr. Liang pledged to provide Sri Lanka with USD 100 million assistance for Army welfare projects initiated by the Sri Lankan ministry of defence.

China also gave USD 1.5 million grant towards the modernisation of the Defence Services College for children of troops.

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