Pentagon: China’s Military Getting Stronger

In an annual report to Congress on military and security developments in China, released on Friday, The Pentagon detailed the significant investment in and modernization of China’s military as its influence continues to expand in the regional and global security arena. From the report’s executive summary, via The New York Times:

THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA (PRC) is pursuing a long-term, comprehensive military modernization program designed to improve the capacity of China’s armed forces to fight and win “local wars under conditions of informatization,” or high-intensity, information-centric regional military operations of short duration. China’s leaders view modernization of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as an essential component of their strategy to take advantage of what they perceive to be a “window of strategic opportunity” to advance China’s national development during the first two decades of the 21st century. During this period, China’s leaders are placing a priority on fostering a positive external environment to provide the PRC with the strategic space to focus on economic growth and development. At the same time, Chinese leaders seek to maintain peace and stability along their country’s periphery, expand their diplomatic influence to facilitate access to markets, capital, and resources, and avoid direct confrontation with the United States and other countries. This strategy has led to an expansion of China’s presence in regions all over the world, creating new and expanding economic and diplomatic interests.

As these interests have grown, and as China has assumed new roles and responsibilities in the international community, China’s military modernization is, to an increasing extent, focusing on investments in military capabilities that would enable China’s armed forces to conduct a wide range of missions, including those farther from China. Even as the PLA is contending with this growing array of missions, preparing for contingencies in the Taiwan Strait remains the principal focus and driver of much of China’s military investment. In this context, over the past year, the PLA continued to build the capabilities and develop the doctrine it considers necessary to deter Taiwan from declaring independence; to deter, delay, and deny effective U.S. intervention in a potential cross-Strait conflict; and to defeat Taiwan forces in the event of hostilities.

In a commentary on Friday, Xinhua News rejected the report as “ridden with speculative descriptions” and claimed it reflected America’s Cold War mentality:

The report said China “periodically acts more assertively in pursuit of its strategic priorities,” making an apparent reference to China’s firm stance on protecting its sovereignty and territorial integrity in disputes concerning the South China Sea.

As a champion of good-neighbor diplomacy, China has been aspiring for peaceful development. When it comes to issues of sovereignty and national security, China stands firm just like any other member of the international community. What’s the fault in that?

The Pentagon also expresses doubts about the transparency of China’s defense spending, saying that estimating China’s actual military expenditures “is difficult because of poor accounting transparency and China’s still incomplete transition from a command economy.”

Making such a statement, the report apparently ignores the fact that China has been publicizing its annual defense budget since 1978, which was included in the government’s budget report to the National People’s Congress every year. And since 1995, China has been releasing the complete data on defense spending in its annual White Paper on China’s National Defense.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right when she said in a speech at the Naval Academy last month that “Today’s China is not the Soviet Union. We are not on the brink of a new Cold War in Asia … That requires adjustments in thinking and approaches on both sides.”

Given the fact that China-U.S. ties have evolved beyond bilateral scope and now bear global significance, it’s highly advisable for the United States to refrain from hurling mud at China and abandon such counterproductive Cold War-style practices of issuing annual reports on China’s military and continuing arms sales to Taiwan.

See also previous CDT coverage of China’s military, including a February report that China’s military spending will double by 2015 and outpace the rest of the Asia Pacific region combined.