Thursday, February 21, 2008

China is using billions of American trade dollars to modernize its military force — from purchasing foreign weapons systems and technologies to building its own ships, planes and missiles — a top lawmaker and his colleagues say.

As top U.S. military officials questioned China’s intentions in expanding its military last week, ranking House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, said the reality is that “China is stepping into the superpower shoes left behind by the former Soviet Union.”

“China is increasing its production and acquisition of military technology at an alarming rate, and they are doing it with American trade dollars,” he added.

Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio Democrat, who is writing a trade-reform bill with Mr. Hunter, cited the U.S. record deficit with China as further evidence that action is needed on countries that unfairly manipulate their currencies.

China’s economic growth has enabled it to sustain a trend of double-digit increases in defense spending. In March 2007, China also announced it would increase its annual defense budget by nearly 18 percent over the previous year to $45 billion.

Military officials said this figure is a low estimate of China’s overall defense spending. A recent Department of Defense annual report, “The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China,” estimated that China’s total military-related defense spending is more likely in the range of $85 billion to $125 billion.

China received the second of two Russian-made Sovremenny II guided-missile destroyers fitted with anti-ship cruise missiles in late 2006 — providing China with a capability to challenge American aircraft carriers.

The report states that the Chinese government is also negotiating with the Russians on submarines, such as the Kilo-class diesel submarine; a battalion of S-300PMU-2 surface-to-air missile systems with an intercept range of about 125 miles; AWACS aircraft with air-to-air refueling capability; sophisticated communications equipment among other aircraft and defense systems.

Last week, Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. forces in Asia, told Chinese officials during a visit to explain the intentions behind their expanding military power, adding that “transparency” is not enough.

Adm. Gary Roughead, the former Pacific Fleet commander, echoed Adm. Keating’s concerns, telling reporters that as China’s navy is becoming increasingly stronger, the Asian nation’s “intent” becomes more imperative.

The loss of American manufacturing jobs, however, only heightens the issue, said Mr. Ryan, citing the $256 billion annual trade deficit on goods with China.

“Our economy is at risk of recession, we continue to lose manufacturing jobs and we need to have the courage to do something real about it,” he said.

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