LAT - Pentagon Says China Seeks To Extend Military Reach
July 20, 2005 Pg. 1
Pentagon Says China Seeks To Extend Military Reach
With the arms buildup, Beijing could flex its muscle across Asia, the report cautions.
By Mark Mazzetti, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — China has long-term ambitions to extend its power across the Asian continent and its leaders in the future "may be tempted to resort to force or coercion more quickly to press diplomatic advantage, advance security interests or resolve disputes," the Pentagon told Congress on Tuesday.
In a report that could stoke growing anti-Beijing sentiment in Congress, the Pentagon declared that China was looking beyond its long-standing confrontation with Taiwan and that its rapid arms buildup was increasingly aimed at expanding its military power in the region. The Pentagon assessment of China's military, required annually by Congress, goes far beyond previous reports in its attempts to discern the strategy behind China's arms buildup.
The Pentagon report was due to Congress in March, and many have speculated that the long delay was the result of fights within the Bush administration over the tone of the report. The State Department is preparing to open a new diplomatic front with China aimed at deeper engagement with the world's most-populous nation and building trust between the two powers.
Pentagon officials insist that the report has been carefully vetted by the State Department and the National Security Council and that its conclusions are endorsed by the entire U.S. government.
The more hawkish report comes at a time the Defense Department is conducting a top-to-bottom review of its own arsenal. The high-level assessment — known as the Quadrennial Defense Review — will serve as the blueprint for military budgets for the next four years, and some in the Defense Department point out that a growing threat from China helps the Pentagon justify multibillion-dollar weapons that would be ill-suited for fighting amorphous terrorist networks.
For instance, Air Force officials, fighting vigorously to preserve the budget for the Stealth F-22 fighter, have put emphasis this year on China's improved air defenses and the F-22's abilities to elude radar.
"You look at the Air Force's briefings, and they are all China, China, China," said a senior defense official working on the Quadrennial Defense Review.
Chinese officials have stressed that their government has no intention of threatening neighboring nations or disturbing regional stability. Its mission, they say, is to develop a credible deterrent so Taiwan doesn't declare independence.
Chinese analysts have argued that Beijing's increased defense spending is in line with the country's economic growth; its budget is a fraction of Washington's; and the spending is needed to modernize a force that is well behind in technology, hardware and logistics.
Rather than merely listing Beijing's arsenal, the Pentagon report also expresses concerns about the threat that China's growing fleet of ships, submarines, jets and ballistic missiles could pose within a decade to Asia's balance of power.
"Current trends in China's military modernization could provide China with a force capable of prosecuting a range of military operations in Asia — well beyond Taiwan — potentially posing a credible threat to modern militaries operating in the region," the report states.
The Pentagon estimates that China might be spending up to $90 billion annually on its military — three times its officially acknowledged defense budget. That would make China the world's third-largest defense spender, and the largest in Asia. A large portion of the secret budget is spent purchasing high-tech weaponry from nations such as Russia and Israel, the report concludes.
But the report notes that China's lofty ambitions are restricted by its current military realities: Its surface fleet is largely incapable of projecting power far beyond Chinese territorial waters; it has no aircraft carriers; and most of its planes cannot be refueled while in flight, thus curtailing the military's reach.
Yet Pentagon officials believe that military planners in Beijing have adopted a strategy of patience. The U.S. officials also contend that China views expansion of its strategic reach as necessary to help meet its need for additional natural resources, such as oil, natural gas and metals.
"There's a cliche out there that all they're focusing on is their economic [growth], that they just want to be fat, happy communists," said a senior defense official who was involved in writing the China report. "We're saying 'be careful' because they have their own doctrine of comprehensive national power."
The Pentagon assessment details the advances in China's arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles capable of striking ports and air bases in the western Pacific, as well as long-range weapons that can strike India, Australia and most cities within the United States.
The report says that China has also made considerable advances in sea and air power, among them the indigenous Yuan-class submarine, launched last year, and a high-tech F-10 fighter, which will be rolled out this year.
It notes that the strategic balance of power in the Taiwan Strait is "shifting toward Beijing," and outlines a number of attack scenarios Chinese officials might use if they believed they had no other means of preventing Taiwan from declaring independence. China has long viewed the island, to which Chinese Nationalist leaders fled during the Communist takeover in the late 1940s, as a breakaway province.
The attack options include precision missile strikes aimed at Taiwanese leadership and military targets, a high-altitude nuclear explosion that would generate an electromagnetic pulse and shut down Taiwan's radar transmissions and communications links, and a full-scale amphibious invasion.
The report points out that China could carry out many of these scenarios before the U.S. military could intervene. At the same time, the report does not envision a high likelihood of an invasion of Taiwan. Besides the tremendous military costs, China's abilities to overtake the island and hold territory in the face of U.S. military action are limited. Moreover, Chinese officials are conscious that a military conflict with Taiwan would hurt their nation's image abroad and retard its economic growth.
"China's leaders also calculate a conflict over Taiwan involving the United States would give rise to a long-term hostile relationship between the two nations, a result that would not be in China's interests," the Pentagon report concludes.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday reiterated his stance that the European Union should maintain its arms embargo on China, which was imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Some European officials are pressing for the embargo to be lifted.
The new report "clearly points up the reason that the president and the United States government have been urging the EU to not lift the arms embargo on the People's Republic of China," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld previewed the new Pentagon report during a speech last month in Singapore and questioned the motives for China's military buildup.
"Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment?" Rumsfeld said.
The Pentagon assessment goes to Congress at a time of rising animosity among lawmakers over China's trade and monetary policies, its belligerent attitude toward U.S. support of Taiwan, and the China National Offshore Oil Co.'s recent bid to take over California-based Unocal.
Bills are pending in both houses of Congress to impose punitive 27.5% tariffs on Beijing unless it immediately increases the value of the yuan, the Chinese currency.
Last week, Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu, a dean at China's National Defense University, said that if the United States were to attack his country while defending Taiwan, China would respond with nuclear weapons.
Chinese officials have assured Washington that the general's comments do not reflect the official policy of the government, yet many in the Pentagon believe that the fact Zhu was not sacked is a sign that his comments are privately endorsed by senior leaders in Beijing.
"To make that comment, and have a job the next day I think is a clear signal, a very clear signal, that in a crisis they may be willing to escalate," said a senior military official who helped prepare the new assessment of China's military.
The Pentagon report states that much of China's defense strategy seems to be derived from guidance that then-Premier Deng Xiaoping gave to the military and national security establishment in the early 1990s.
The guidance, known as the "24 Character Strategy," advises military planners to "observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities; and bide our time."