- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

China’s ability to project its military power is increasing and has implications for both the regional and international strategic dynamic, according to the Pentagon’s latest yearly assessment of China’s military. Released Friday, the report is not alarmist, but its conclusions are stark nonetheless. According to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, it “paints a picture of a country that is devoting substantial resources to the military and developing… some very sophisticated capabilities.”

Among those capabilities are methods to control or block information, including cyber warfare: China’s military “has established information warfare units to develop viruses to attack enemy computer systems and networks, and tactics and measures to protect friendly computer systems and networks.”

Other developments in China’s military will allow the country to project its force beyond Taiwan, which was regarded as China’s primary military target. “New missile units outfitted with conventional theater-range missiles at various locations in China could be used in a variety of non-Taiwan contingencies,” according to the report.

That Beijing is pursuing development of advanced destroyers and submarines, including five new Jin-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines that each carry a dozen missiles that boast a 5,000-mile range, also reflects its interest in asserting a greater presence in the Pacific — a development that previous Pentagon reports have also noted. This is a “major factor” in changing not only the military balance in Asia, but “these capabilities will increase Beijing’s options for military coercion to press diplomatic advantage, advance interests, or resolve disputes” as well.

Space is also a “high priority” for the Chinese military, and a headline-grabbing anti-satellite missile test in January, which destroyed a low-orbit Chinese satellite, proved that China could threaten U.S. assets in space.

Despite the more far-reaching ambitions, Taiwan remains the near-term focal point for the Chinese military. More than 900 short-range ballistic missiles deployed opposite Taiwan, and more than 100 added each year, are a glaring reminder of how China views the island. The balance of power between China and Taiwan, the report also notes, is shifting in China’s favor.

China wants to be able to deter or prevent a third party from interceding in the Taiwan Strait. To do this, the report states, China is developing the capacity to threaten, at long range, surface ships, Pacific airbases, air-defense systems and other targets.

One of the biggest concerns, however, is the continuing lack of transparency. Chinese officials have maintained their insistence that their country’s rise is benign. But such blanket assurances are not the foundation of sensible policy. And that holds particularly true when the assurances come from a country which puts a high priority on secrecy — and not just in military matters. The Pentagon’s report cautions: “The stress on seizing the initiative in conflicts and keeping the adversary off balance in Chinese military strategy gives rise to a strong emphasis on deception at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels.”

Beijing has continuously failed to accurately disclose its true level of military spending. It consistently underreports what U.S. intelligence estimates are its actual military expenditures. Beijing’s official budget for 2007 is $45 billion; the Defense Intelligence Agency estimates that real military spending is between $85 billion to $125 billion. It also estimates that China could have spent more on its military in 1999 than it claims it will spend in 2007. By not disclosing this basic information — to say nothing of China’s larger strategy — Chinese officials make it tremendously difficult for their American counterparts to establish any kind of meaningful rapport.

The U.S.-China relationship is in no way an inherently adversarial one, but the Pentagon report is a reminder that policy-makers in Washington need to continue to ask important questions of China’s military objectives and to press Beijing for more candor about its military forces and goals.

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