- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cooperation report?

The Pentagon is nearly two months late in releasing its 2010 report on China’s military buildup, and defense officials say the White House is holding up the release.

According to the officials, National Security Council aides are opposed to publishing new details on China’s decade-long buildup of new strategic and conventional missiles, aircraft, warships and other high-tech weapons that the White House deems “provocative.”

Instead, NSC aides are insisting on inserting language into the annual “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China” report to highlight U.S.-China military “cooperation.”

Making U.S.-China military cooperation look good in the report is a tough sell, the officials said. China severed military ties with the United States twice in the past two years, first in October 2008 and again earlier this year, to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

The officials told Inside the Ring that the report is being revised based on a little-noticed change in last year’s Defense Authorization Act that modified what the Pentagon must include in the report.

China’s government for years issued diplomatic protests on the annual reports to Congress, complaining they unfairly portray the Chinese military buildup as a threat to U.S. and allied interests.

In response, the Obama administration is working to remove significant details from the report, such as declassified intelligence on China’s testing of the DF-21 aircraft carrier-killing, anti-ship ballistic missile.

Instead, those new developments will be included in the classified version. The public version, when it is finally released, is expected to be a watered-down, more diplomatic version of past reports, the defense officials said.

The report’s revisions are part of the administration’s new softer-line approach to China and bolster a sophisticated propaganda program by Beijing and its military over the past several years to try to kill the report, or at least force changes to it.

The new language in the Defense Authorization Act requires future reports to include data on “United States-China engagement and cooperation on security matters.” The language also softened the report by eliminating all references to China’s “grand strategy” and its plans for “preemptive strikes” in an effort to play down Beijing’s capabilities.

Those changes coincided with lobbying efforts since 2008 by a U.S.-China group called the Sanya Initiative, led by China’s former military intelligence chief, retired Lt. Gen. Xiong Guangkai, and involving a small group of retired U.S. military officers.

The group stated in its 2008 report that after meeting in the Chinese resort island town of Sanya that “American generals” had agreed to ask the Pentagon to delay release of the military power report that year and to avoid “exaggerated” reports on China’s military buildup.

Gen. Xiong currently heads a government-run think tank in China. The U.S. side is led by retired Adm. Bill Owens, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has extensive business ties in China.

Richard Fisher, a military analyst with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said weakening the annual report would undermine the Pentagon’s credibility in seeking greater military “transparency” from China.

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