Monday, February 6, 2006

A new Pentagon strategy report and recent congressional testimony by the director of national intelligence show the Bush administration remains divided on the threat posed by China’s rise.

The Quadrennial Defense Review report made public last week bluntly states that China is the greatest potential challenge to the U.S. military and is rapidly building up its military.

John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, by contrast, stated in an annual intelligence threat briefing for Congress that China’s rise is similar to that of democratic India. He left out any reference to the threat to Asia or the United States posed by the military buildup.

The Pentagon report said the U.S. goal is to help China pursue peaceful economic development and political liberalization, “rather than military threat and intimidation.” It notes that Beijing is investing heavily in military force, “particularly in its strategic arsenal and capabilities designed to improve its ability to project power beyond its borders.”

To deal with the threat of China and other emerging threats, the Pentagon report calls for “pursuit of investments that capitalize on enduring U.S. advantages in key strategic and operational areas.”

The military currently is studying how to improve its capability for “deep strike” weapons that can reach inside continental China, including long-range missiles and bombers and possibly space weapons.

In his prepared statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Mr. Negroponte sought to minimize China’s rise by listing it with India as two emerging powers.

“China is a rapidly rising power with steadily expanding global reach that may become a peer competitor to the United States at some point,” he said.

Mr. Negroponte’s softer comments on China contrast with those of CIA Director Porter J. Goss last year when he told the same committee that China’s modernizing military forces “threaten” U.S. forces and interests in Asia.

A senior DNI official said Mr. Negroponte’s testimony, the first by the new director, was structured to present “challenges” for intelligence rather than to identify specific threats and enemies.

How to deal with China, a communist dictatorship that has reformed economically but not politically, is the subject of a vigorous policy debate inside government.

Some officials — who dominate the State Department and the intelligence agencies — consider China a nonthreatening state that will evolve into a benign power through trade and other global economic interaction.

Other officials, however, view China as a growing potential danger, engaged in strategic deception to mask hidden goals and objectives.

According to Pentagon officials, early drafts of the strategy report made no mention of China because some officials argued that China’s rise was not strategically significant.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld rejected that approach and required the report to include references to China’s military buildup and the need for the U.S. military to respond to it.

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