The US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region is out of proportion to the security threat facing the region, China's top envoy to Washington said on the eve of high-level talks between the countries that start today.
In a interview with CNN International's Christiane Amanpour, Cui Tiankai said threats in Asia-Pacific centred around North Korea's nuclear programme. But he said the United States should not use the issue to boost its military presence throughout the region.
"I don't think the US should overreact to such a threat," Cui said, adding that the strengthening of US military alliances were "not quite in proportion to the real threat", so people in the region had reason to question Washington's intentions.
The interview aired ahead of the Sino-US strategic and economic dialogue in Washington, in which top officials will discuss issues, including regional security, that were a source of friction between the two powers.
During the talks, the US is expected to urge Beijing to exert pressure on Pyongyang to halt its nuclear programme. Cui said denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula was a national security concern for Beijing. But he argued that maintaining regional stability would be defeated if sides resorted to armed conflict.
Cui also sounded dubious about Washington's claims that it has not taken sides in Beijing and Tokyo's dispute over the Diaoyu islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus, in the East China Sea. US officials have said they consider the islands part of the territory covered under its defence pact with Japan.
"It's not a matter of whether I believe them or not. It's a matter of how the US would really stick to this position of taking no side," he said. "Sometimes, when the US is talking to us, they say one thing; and when they are talking to Japan, they say another. So what is the real position of the US? We must wait and see."
Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama vowed last month to avoid confrontation and build a "new type of relationship" between an emerging power and an established one.
Cybersecurity was on the agenda when lower-level officials held their first meeting on Monday. The topic is likely to surface in higher-level talks.
Cui said Beijing would seek "some clarification" about allegations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the US had hacked Chinese computer systems.
He stressed that the central government had adhered to the "one country, two systems" principle and had not interfered in Hong Kong's decision to allow the US fugitive to leave the city. "It is a matter between Mr Snowden and the US government," Cui said. "It's none of our business."
Observers said Cui's remarks showed the extent of Beijing's frustration over Washington's pivot towards Asia as it winds down its military involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Wang Fan , a professor at Beijing Foreign Affairs University, said officials would only be able to discuss solutions if they admitted there were problems.
Professor Jia Xiudong , from the China Institute of International Studies, said that China welcomed economic co-operation with the US in the region, but "a [greater] military presence will only make the Sino-US relationship more complicated".