- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 25, 2010

Republican and Democratic senators alike are calling on the Pentagon to explain why it has failed to provide Congress with an annual report on China's military power that was needed for debate on the defense bills.

Five Republicans on Friday wrote to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expressing “serious concern” with the failure of the Pentagon to submit the report, formally known as “The Military Power of the People's Republic of China” and required by March 1 under a 2000 law.

The five senators, led by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said in the letter that “China’s extensive military build-up is alarming, as are its potential implications for U.S. national security.”

Separately, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut independent, won support of SenateArmed Services Committee Democrats in inserting language noting the panel’s anger over the missing report in the fiscal 2011 defense-spending authorization bill.

The bill report states that “the committee notes its displeasure that the Department of Defense has failed to submit the annual report … as required by law.”

“The timely submission of this report is required by law, and the committee expects it to be presented to Congress as required,” the report stated.

The five Republicans stated: “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has undertaken a military modernization program, supported by a military budget that has experienced double-digit-percentage annual increases for more than two decades.”

The report is needed “in order to inform Congress on the true nature and extent of China’s rapidly growing military capabilities and military strategies, as Congress prepares to consider the annual defense authorization bill, defense appropriations bill, and related legislation,” they said.

The Pentagon so far has refused requests to explain to either Senate and House staff, or to news reporters, why it has delayed the report, which was drafted before March and held up from release by White House National Security Council officials.

“The report remains in coordination and will be submitted once it is approved,” said Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a Pentagon spokesman.

Senate aides said the Pentagon’s point man on the report, Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant defense secretary for East Asia, informed the committee six weeks ago that the report would be released soon.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell on Sunday declined to address the reasons for the missing report, but said it will be sent to Congress after Mr. Gates approves it.

Defense officials said the report was held up months ago by officials who were acting on little-noticed congressional language inserted in last year’s defense authorization bill that called on the Pentagon to highlight U.S.-China military cooperation in the annual assessment.

Such cooperation has been limited since China's military suspended all contacts with the Pentagon earlier this year to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan; specifically, a $6.4 billion arms package to the island.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told U.S. troops in South Korea on Tuesday that he has changed his views on China's military buildup. “I have moved from being curious about what they’re doing to being concerned about what they’re doing,” he said, noting “fairly significant investment in high-end equipment: satellites, ships, missiles, anti-ship missiles, obviously, high-end aircraft.”

The five Republican senators suggested that the report is being modified by political appointees to avoid upsetting China, and that such political influence risks undermining the report’s credibility.

“Since the responsibility for this report lies with the [Defense Department] alone, we ask for your assurance that White House political appointees at the National Security Council or other agencies have not been allowed to alter the substance of the report in an effort to avoid the prospect of angering China,” they said.

“With the Chinese military-power report now almost five months overdue, we ask that you submit it to Congress immediately and provide an explanation as to the significant delay,” they said.

The letter also was signed by Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee; Jim Risch of Idaho; Pat Roberts of Kansas; and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma.



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