- The Washington Times - Friday, June 25, 2004

The Pentagon’s “Annual Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China” is a troubling document for a variety of reasons. Not the least of these is that the report makes clear that China, despite attempting a more tempered approach in recent years, is still committed to Communist ideology as it relates to foreign policy. Released in May, the report outlines how China’s military buildup is in direct connection to its regional ambitions, which include challenging U.S. dominance in the Pacific. China’s goal of regional hegemony is still many years off, though approaching at a pace that demands immediate attention.

China reasons correctly that it must upgrade its military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), to U.S. armed forces standards through a prolonged concentration on increasing investment and procurement of high-tech, “network-centric” systems. As the report notes, “China’s military modernization is oriented on developing the capabilities to fight and win ‘local wars under high-tech conditions.’ Based largely on observations of U.S. and allied operations since Operation Desert Storm [in 1991], PLA modernization envisions seeking precision-strike munitions, modern command and control systems, and state-of-the-art [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)] platforms. Beijing sees its potential future adversaries, particularly the U.S. Armed Forces, acquiring these advanced systems, and this is the driver in PLA defensive and offensive force modernization.” According to the report, China’s military spending will increase 11.6 percent to $25 billion this year. The amount in real terms is actually higher, the report cautions, when research and foreign purchases are added, which would bring it between $50 billion to $70 billion. Such spending makes China the third-largest defense spender after the United States and Russia. China’s military imports also rose 7 percent from last year, 90 percent of which come from Russia alone.

With its ISR advancements, the PLA expects to “provide a regional, and potentially hemispheric, continuous surveillance capability,” according to the report. This would include land, air, sea and space systems comparable to U.S. systems. Also included in the PLA’s modernization program are space-based systems with military and intelligence potential, antisatellite systems capable of disabling enemy satellites and electronic warfare systems capable of concealing PLA movement and operations, weakening enemy air-defense early-warning systems and disrupting integrated air-defense systems. In short, these are not only the high-tech systems that the U.S. military has employed with such deadly efficiency upon lesser enemies, but they are the sort that a military would need to defeat the United States.

The balance of power in Eastern Asia is quickly shifting in China’s favor, especially in regards to Taiwan. Even if high-tech nations restrict arms trade with China, it is committing more resources toward modernizing its military than any other nation in the region. It is only a matter of time. As such, it is clear that the Bush administration’s security strategy of ensuring U.S. military preeminence in the world applies to both fighting terror as well as guaranteeing peace.

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