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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Trade and business interests should trump any “friction points” that may surface between the U.S. and budding superpower China, the senior U.S. military officer said Friday.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said leaders from the two military and economic giants want to walk a peaceful path rather than tread a more ominous road.

“You don’t want to have a double suicide,” he said at a town hall meeting, addressing a Camp Zama soldier’s question about China’s ability to threaten regional allies while still receiving millions in U.S. trade money. “The more trade that takes place between the U.S. and China ties our economies together in a way that damaging one does harm to the other. Just pay attention to the friction points.”

Pace, who visited China in March, said the communist nation’s military advances can’t be ignored. “The capacity of China’s armed forces is growing, but I have not seen any intent from them to use it,” he said. “That does not mean we should go back to sleep.

“China is a nation that has an overwhelming capacity to deliver pain. Therefore, you would not want to get in a conventional fight with them.”

With billions in trade potentially at stake, the two nations’ business and government leaders are banking on cooler heads prevailing in any conflict resolution, Pace said.

The general also discussed North Korea and Cuba during his Friday visit to Yokota:

n North Korea: Pace said South Korean forces are very capable of standing up to an attack by North Korea, with the U.S. military there as a backstop. “It would be an irrational thing for the North to be aggressive to the South. But we do not know whether rational thought prevails there,” he said.

Citing U.S. intelligence, Pace also said “no government on the planet” would support North Korea in aggression against any of its neighbors.

n Cuba: The United States is “watching with great interest” the health of dictator Fidel Castro as the island nation faces potential political upheaval, Pace said. “We want to be properly positioned to reach out to the Cuban community when the time comes,” he said. “There is lots of energy in many parts of our government on how best to provide support to the Cuban people.”

Mindful of Cuba’s sovereignty, the U.S. must use dialogue as its primary tool, he added. “We provide our help best when invited,” he said.

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