Beijing reacted angrily Wednesday to a Pentagon report expressing worries about China’s burgeoning military capabilities, calling such concerns baseless.
“The report ignores the objective truth and accuses China for its normal national defense and army construction” said Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng. “The development of the Chinese army is reasonable and proper.”
This year's annual Pentagon report on China's military capabilities, delivered to Congress on Monday, outlined China’s moves to boost its military strength and warned that “the limited transparency in China’s military and security affairs enhances uncertainty and increases the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation.”
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, complained recently that China’s suspension of military-to-military links made it harder for Washington to assess Beijing’s intentions. He said China’s investment in “high-end” weaponry had moved him from being “curious about what they are doing to being concerned.”
Beijing cut off military ties with Washington earlier this year to protest a $6.4 billion US arms sale to Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province.
The Peoples Liberation Army has issued its own reports on its activities in recent years, and has played a growing role in international peacekeeping operations, such as the antipiracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.
US officials are skeptical, however, about the accuracy of China’s accounts of its military. They believe, for example, that Beijing in fact spends twice as much as its official 2010 defense budget of 78 billion dollars.
Chinese analysts are doubtful that Beijing will meet US demands for greater transparency any time soon.
“It takes time to change mentalities” says Shen Dingli, a security expert at Shanghai’s Fudan university. “Incrementally China is providing more transparency…but we will have to wait for a generational change” in China’s military leadership to see a change in attitude, he cautions.
Such a change would smooth China’s relationship not only with the United States but also with neighbors such as Japan and India, Professor Shen points out. “China should be more courageous in transparency and build its confidence…to make other countries confident about its defense buildup” he argues.
Releasing information about the country’s weapons research and development programs and its purchases would help “avoid the pitfall of being seen unnecessarily as a threat,” Shen adds.
The Pentagon report highlighted China’s work on a ballistic missile capable of attacking aircraft carriers more than 930 miles away, the continuing buildup of missiles aimed at Taiwan, and Beijing’s plans – still officially unannounced – to begin construction of China’s first aircraft carrier.