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Mullen: China now a world power

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Mullen: China now a world power
  • NEW: South China Sea dispute could become "very dangerous," Adm. Mike Mullen warns
  • NEW: Stronger military must come with "greater transparency," Mullen tells China
  • NEW: The visit comes amid tension over arms sales and U.S. military exercises
  • In January, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called China a "rising power"

Beijing (CNN) -- The top U.S. military officer declared Sunday that China "has arrived as a world power," and that previous U.S. descriptions of China as a "rising power" are now a thing of the past.

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen made the remarks during an address at a university in Beijing at the start of a four-day visit.

"China today is a different country than it was 10 years ago, and it certainly will continue to change over the next 10 years," Mullen told the audience at Renmin University. "It is no longer a rising power. It has, in fact, arrived as a world power."

In January, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described China as a "rising power."

"The United States is changing as well," Mullen added in his remarks, "as are the context and global order in which both our countries operate. I believe that our dialogue needs to keep pace with these changes. It needs to move from working out the particular issues and conditions of our bilateral relationship to working together to meet broader -- and common -- goals we share."

The chairman touched on some specific concerns, including the growing territorial disputes over the South China Sea and its potentially huge reserves of oil and natural gas.

Mullen hails Chinese military
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  • Mike Mullen

"It is certainly the United States' expectation that these be worked out by countries ... in a responsible way, so that a specific incident does not rise to a level of miscalculation which could become very dangerous and get out of control," Mullen said.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have competing claims to parts of the 1.3-million-square-mile patch of the Pacific Ocean. A recent spate of incidents between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels in the sea has fueled a growing rift between the communist neighbors, creating strange bedfellows as Hanoi embraces closer military ties with historic foes in Washington.

Mullen also noted China's growing military strength.

"With greater military power must come greater responsibility, greater cooperation and, just as important, greater transparency," he said. "Without these things, the expansion of military power in your region, rather than making it more secure and stable could have the opposite effect."

The visit is part of an effort by both sides to increase mutual understanding despite the divisive issues of arms sales to Taiwan, U.S. meetings with the Dalai Lama -- who was in Washington this week -- and plans for U.S. military exercises in the region that China opposes.

China repeatedly has objected to outside naval operations in areas it claims as its own territory, including the South China Sea.

Vietnam and the United States recently announced a new round of joint military exercises, and the U.S. recently held joint drills with the Philippines.

Mullen, in his address, called for an "enduring effort" to build the U.S.-China relationship, saying the two sides must "work from a posture of mutual respect" and think "locally and globally."

He encouraged cooperation on efforts including stability on the Korean peninsula and the safety of trade routes.

"Both our nations recognize the emerging challenges of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, growing global energy demands and the geopolitical implications and stresses of climate change," Mullen said. "Therefore, our exchange must not be limited to the Asia-Pacific, but should range farther and wider, as befits our shared interests and China's increasing ability to contribute positively beyond your shores."

While in China, Mullen will meet with numerous Chinese officials, including Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army Chen Bingde, who visited Washington in May. The admiral will also meet with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

CNN's Kevin Voigt and Natalie Robehmed contributed to this report.