China is continuing an aggressive military buildup in secret and deploying missiles near Taiwan that are increasing instability in the region, a State Department official told Congress yesterday.
Thomas Christensen, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said China has made multibillion-dollar increases in defense spending each year for the past decade but has not explained to the United States where the arms buildup is headed.
“These are increases in real terms, and what we would like to know … where are these trend lines leading?” Mr. Christensen said.
China’s defense spending has tripled since 1999 and “we would like to know more about where China is heading; what the purposes of this modernization are,” he said.
U.S. defense officials have said China’s military and Communist Party leaders have refused to answer U.S. government officials’ questions about the goals and targets of China’s military buildup.
The secrecy surrounding the buildup is raising fears among China’s neighbors, he told a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the global environment.
Mr. Christensen said estimates of China’s real defense budget vary widely but that the latest announced spending increase for this year is 18 percent, and the equivalent of about $44 billion.
However, U.S. government and private specialists say China’s real annual defense spending is between $130 billion and $200 billion when foreign weapons purchases, the military-run space program and other costs are factored into the estimates.
“This gets at the core issue of lack of transparency,” Mr. Christensen said. “So we think it’s in both of our interests for China to be more transparent about what it’s doing with its military modernization, how much money it’s spending, where it’s spending that money for what purposes, what sort of doctrinal shifts might be going on within the Chinese military as it attains some of the new capabilities.”
He called on China to “engage the world more clearly about what it’s doing in its defense modernization.”
The Jan. 11 anti-satellite weapons test by China, which destroyed a weather satellite in space, “underscores the lack of transparency in that military modernization process.”
“The development and deployment of such an offensive system appears inconsistent with China’s stated goal of ‘peaceful rise,’ ” he said in a prepared statement for the committee.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, who is visiting China for talks, told reporters last week that China’s military leaders refused to discuss the anti-satellite weapons program.
The main security worry is the “the near to medium term … very fast-paced military buildup across from Taiwan, which we see as a force for instability and cross-strait relations,” Mr. Christensen said.
Pentagon officials estimate that China has 900 to 1,000 short-range missiles deployed within firing range of Taiwan that could be used in a lightning, leadership decapitation strike on the island that Beijing regards as its territory.