(CNN) -- China is building up its military capabilities, but does not intend to compete with the United States like the Soviet Union did, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday ahead of a summit in Asia.
Speaking to reporters on a flight to Singapore, Gates said that China is "clearly working on capabilities that are of concern to us."
He added, however, "I think that the Chinese have learned powerful lessons from the Soviet experience, and they do not intend to try to compete with us across the full range of military capabilities. But I think they are intending to build capabilities that give them a considerable freedom of action in Asia, and the opportunity to extend their influence."
During a visit to Washington earlier this month, China's top military officer said that there is a "gaping gap between the militaries of the United States and China.
Chinese Gen. Chen Bingde said the United States and China need to work together despite their differences.
Gates said he understands that China is a major power.
"We are not trying to hold China down. China has been a great power for thousands of years, it is a global power and will be a global power. So the question is, how do we work our way through this in a way that assures that we continue to have positive relations in areas like economics and other areas that are important to both of us and manage whatever other differences we have in the other areas?"
The defense secretary was also asked about the recent nomination of Army Gen. Martin Dempsey to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff over previously perceived front-runner Marine Gen. James Cartwright, currently vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
There were some media reports that Cartwright was passed over because of reports that he went through back channels and broke the chain of command during discussions of a troop surge in Afghanistan in 2009.
"It had nothing to do with it whatsoever," Gates said. "Cartwright is one of the finest officers I have ever worked with, I think he has been an outstanding vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, I think he has made an enormous contribution, and I have enjoyed working with him for four years, and consider him a friend. He has rendered extraordinary service to the American people."