- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 18, 2010

BEIJING | Beijing is unlikely to ever satisfy Washington’s hopes for greater military transparency, and tensions between their armed forces will remain, Chinese scholars said this week.

They spoke after the publication of an annual Pentagon report that said China is pursuing its goal of becoming a major military power in a secretive manner that “increases the potential for misunderstanding” and conflict with other nations.

Beijing-based scholars said the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has sought to be more open but will continue to adhere to a different standard of transparency.

“Although China has steadily increased its military transparency over the past few years, it’s currently impossible for China to reach the level that the U.S. demands,” said Shi Yinhong, an analyst on the U.S. at Renmin University.

Long shrouded in secrecy, the PLA in recent years has issued its own reports on its makeup and mission and engaged with the armed forces of other nations through port visits, peacekeeping missions and joint drills. Diplomats say they hope that will help calm fears over the motivations behind its military buildup.

However, top officers are thought to highly doubt the foreign policy benefits of greater transparency, especially with the United States, which Beijing considers its greatest rival.

There was no immediate comment on the Pentagon report from China’s Foreign Ministry or the Ministry of National Defense, which manages the 2.3-million-member People’s Liberation Army.

The report was released amid deep dissatisfaction in Beijing over U.S.-South Korea joint naval drills in the Yellow Sea. China also was upset by statements last month by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that were considered unwelcome interference in the territorial dispute between China and Southeast Asian nations over the South China Sea.

In January, Beijing suspended contacts with the U.S. military as retaliation for a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims as its own territory.

The combination of issues has led to an “unprecedented surge” in tensions, although the U.S. advantage in military capability means the potential for conflict is low, said Zhu Feng of Peking University’s School of International Studies.

“The Pentagon is fully aware that there’s a huge gap between the two countries’ military power. It is a joke to claim that China is going to attack American aircraft carriers,” Mr. Zhu said.

The Pentagon report said China was developing a ballistic missile capable of attacking aircraft carriers more than 930 miles away. It did not indicate how close Beijing was to mastering the technology involved.

Although final testing of the missile is thought to be a year or two away, some analysts say it would take a decade more to attain accuracy.

The report also said China could start construction of its first aircraft carrier by the end of the year and had begun a program to train 50 pilots to operate fixed-wing aircraft from an aircraft carrier. Analysts say China appears to be building land-based mock-ups of a carrier flight deck and is sending pilots to Russia for training.

Regarding Taiwan, which China has vowed to take by force if necessary, the report said the balance of forces was continuing to shift in Beijing’s favor. U.S. law requires Washington to help ensure the island’s defense.

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