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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China's build-up of sea and air military power funded by a strong economy appears aimed at the United States, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Monday.
Admiral Michael Mullen said China had the right to meet its security needs, but the build-up would require the United States to work with its Pacific allies to respond to increasing Chinese military capabilities.
"They are developing capabilities that are very maritime focused, maritime and air focused, and in many ways, very much focused on us," he told a conference of the Navy League, a nonprofit seamen's support group, in Washington.
"They seem very focused on the United States Navy and our bases that are in that part of the world."
China in March unveiled its official military budget for 2009 of $70.24 billion, the latest in nearly two decades of double-digit rises in declared defense spending.
Beijing bristles at criticism, saying its spending is line with economic growth and defense needs, and its budget remains a fraction of the Pentagon's.
Mullen acknowledged that "every country in the world has got a right to develop their military as they see fit to provide for their own security."
But he said the build-up propelled by fast economic growth required the United States and allies or partners like South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand to work together to "figure out a way to work with (China)" to avoid miscalculations.
Mullen's comments followed remarks by President Barack Obama's top adviser on Asia on Friday calling for high-level talks with the Chinese military to reduce mistrust.
A brief naval clash in March in waters near China underscored that "the absence of a sound relationship between our two militaries is a part of that strategic mistrust," said Jeffrey Bader, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council.
In that encounter, the U.S. Defense Department said an unarmed U.S. Navy surveillance ship was shadowed and harassed by Chinese ships.
Reporting by Karen Jacobs, writing by Paul Eckert, editing by Alan Elsner