China’s top military officer warned that America’s tendency to “hype” the threat from Beijing could thwart better U.S.-China military relations.

In a speech Wednesday at National Defense University in Washington, Gen. Chen Bingde, the People’s Liberation Army chief of general staff, said China’s economic rise and recent military-modernization efforts had “unfortunately aroused unfounded suspicion and exaggeration of China’s defense and military development.”

Overstating the threat posed by China’s military, he said, “not only distorts China’s strategic intention, and tarnishes our international image, but also pollutes the political environment for Sino-U.S. [military-to-military] relations.”

But the visit by China’s top military brass comes amid concern within some U.S. national-security circles about Beijing’s growing military prowess.

Asked about Gen. Chen’s criticism, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the talks this week are about both countries “making adjustments” and are vital to prevent miscalculations. “We have talked about a peaceful future…that does not include a conflict between China and the United States,” Adm. Mullen said.

Earlier this year, for instance, the Chinese military conducted a test flight of its new J-20 stealth plane, a move that sparked concern about potential for a new arms race in the Pacific.

American officials said the test flight, which happened during a visit to Beijing by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was meant to telegraph China’s growing military confidence.

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