WASHINGTON – China’s military buildup has altered Asia-Pacific power balances and could pose threats to other forces, the Pentagon said Tuesday in an annual report that repeated U.S. calls for Beijing to explain its actions.
China’s military modernization retains its long-standing focus on Taiwan, which Beijing claims and has vowed to attack if the self-ruled democratic island formally declares independence.
But China’s years of double-digit growth in arms spending and new missiles, ships and aircraft meant it could project power farther afield, the 2006 China Military Power Report said.
“The pace and scope of China’s military build-up already place regional military balances at risk,” the report said.
China was on track to build “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,” it said.
The most striking new development in the 2006 report, which repeats points raised in the past, was China’s commitment to building up its strategic arsenal, Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman told reporters.
“We sense that they are at the beginning of some serious modernization of their overall strategic forces, quantitatively and qualitatively,” he said.
“We don’t exaggerate their capability,” Rodman said, but added China had “a very patient strategy of investment, planning–just growing over time.”
The Pentagon has been raising alarms over China’s military modernization for several years. Japan has joined the United States in calling for China’s communist rulers to be more open about military budgets and policy.
“China’s leaders have yet to adequately explain the purposes or desired end-states of their military expansion,” the 58-page report said.
“Absent greater transparency, international reactions to China’s military growth will understandably hedge against these unknowns,” it said.
Taiwan Balance Changing
The report noted with approval China’s globally oriented diplomacy, including its hosting of six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear arms programs and deployment of peacekeeping troops to Haiti and African states.
But it said China had not used all its clout with North Korea and warned that Beijing’s close ties to Iran, Sudan, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Venezuela undercut international efforts to change those states’ behavior. Chinese firms had proliferated technology to Iran, the report added.
China publicly retracted a July 2005 comment by a Chinese general threatening to use nuclear weapons if U.S. forces intervened in a Taiwan conflict, but the remarks “show that the circle of military and civilian national security professionals discussing the value of China’s current ‘no first use’ nuclear policy is broader than previously assessed,” the report said.
Rodman, who will visit China next month, said the Pentagon accepted China’s assurances it still adhered to that doctrine, but wanted to discuss the issue with the Chinese.
China has deployed some 710 to 790 short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan, adding about 100 a year, the report said. Taipei’s defense spending has declined, shifting the Taiwan Strait military balance in China’s favor, the Pentagon analysis said.
“The balance between Beijing and Taiwan is heading in the wrong direction unless (the Taiwanese) unify behind a stronger commitment to defense,” Rodman warned.
The United States is obliged by law to help Taiwan defend itself and offered Taiwan an extensive arms package in 2001. The budget for those weapons has yet to be debated in Taiwan’s parliament.