The commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific said Thursday that the buildup of Chinese armed forces is continuing “unabated” and Beijing’s goal appears to be power projection beyond Asia.
“China’s rapid and comprehensive transformation of its armed forces is affecting regional military balances and holds implications beyond the Asia-Pacific region,” said Adm. Robert F. Willard, the Pacific Command leader. “Of particular concern is that elements of China’s military modernization appear designed to challenge our freedom of action in the region.”
The comments in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee are likely to fuel an ongoing debate inside the U.S. government among military, policy and intelligence officials over whether China’s military buildup is limited to a future conflict with Taiwan or whether China harbors global military ambitions.
Some U.S. officials insist China’s buildup of both conventional and nuclear forces is aimed solely at a Taiwan conflict, in which U.S. forces likely would intervene in support of the island.
Other officials have said China is seeking global hegemony through a combination of military, economic, political and intelligence power projection that seeks to diminish U.S. influence around the world.
“The United States remains the pre-eminent power in the Asia-Pacific, though China’s rising influence is changing regional power dynamics in ways that create both challenges and, I think, opportunities,” Adm. Willard said.
He also disclosed for the first time in the testimony that China is moving ahead with a new anti-ship ballistic missile capable of attacking aircraft carriers hundreds of miles from China’s coasts.
China also will deploy its own aircraft carrier by 2012 and currently has more than 60 submarines, he said.
China is “developing and testing a conventional anti-ship ballistic missile based on the DF-21/CSS-5 medium-range ballistic missile designed specifically to target aircraft carriers,” Adm. Willard said in his prepared statement.
It was the first time a U.S. official had disclosed that the unique precision guided missile was being tested.
Rep. Howard McKeon, California Republican and ranking member of the committee, questioned the admiral about the new space-transiting anti-ship missile and other weapons designed to attack U.S. forces in the Western Pacific.
“The China military capacity has been growing by and large unabated for the past 10 to 20 years,” Adm. Willard said. “The past 10 years have been pretty dramatic, and as you suggest, this has included investments in what has broadly been termed anti-access capabilities. Area-denial capability is another way to think about it.”
The new missile is designed to hit targets at extended ranges from the Chinese mainland, and other anti-access weapons include a large number of submarines, new integrated air- and missile-defense capabilities and cyberwarfare and anti-space weapons, Adm. Willard said, noting “all of which we have been monitoring very closely for some years.”
Adm. Willard said he is confident that U.S. forces would be able to penetrate the new Chinese forces in a conflict and noted that the Pacific Command is working to identify and address shortcomings in countering China’s area-denial weapons.
China cut off military relations with the Pentagon in October 2008 and again earlier this year to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
Adm. Willard recently formed a special task force to address China’s military buildup. Last year, he told reporters that China’s military buildup exceeded U.S. intelligence estimates every year for more than a decade, an indirect criticism of what other defense officials have called weak intelligence reports on Beijing’s military buildup.