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Pentagon Report on China: Assessment or Exaggeration?

Gunjan Singh is Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • August 26, 2010

    The Pentagon’s recently released report, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2010, is an annual report sent to Congress and contains a comprehensive compilation of military-related developments within China in the year 2009. It covers China’s Strategy, Force Modernization Goals and Trends, Resources for Force Modernization, Force Modernization and Security in Taiwan Strait, and China-US Military relations.

    The report highlights China’s unrelenting efforts in building its military advantage over Taiwan. It argues that Beijing is also working towards extending its capabilities beyond the Taiwan Strait and attempting to be in a position to strike parts of Asia. In addition, Beijing is increasing investment on nuclear weapons, submarines, missiles, aircraft carriers and cyber warfare. It also mentions that Beijing has increased its defence budget by 7.5 per cent, taking it to a total of 532.1 billion yuan or US $ 77.9 billion.

    The Report highlights the fact that in spite of good relations between the Mainland and Taiwan since the election of Ma Ying-jeou in 2008, China continues to build its capabilities vis-à-vis Taiwan, which may point to Beijing’s attempt to be militarily prepared for a scenario in which Taipei declares independence. The report says, "The balance of cross-Strait military forces continues to shift in the mainland's favor" and that the PRC’s military build-up in view of a Taiwan Strait crisis has "continued unabated".

    In addition, the report accepts that China has been indulging in cyber intrusions. It states that in the year 2009 a large number of computer systems across the world, which included US government and also Indian systems were intruded by Chinese. What is not clear is whether the PRC had permitted these attacks. It is known that official PLA writings discuss the development of cyberwarfare capabilities.

    Yet, the report reveals nothing new and nothing that was not already known. It appears to be a compilation of developments which were in discussion in open forums for the last one year. As far as China’s military budget is concerned it has always been a matter of speculation for people who are trying to analyze Chinese military developments. Secondly, cyber attacks have already generated huge attention and anxiety among defence establishments around the world.

    What should interest New Delhi is the Report’s statement that the PRC has “moved new advanced longer range CSS-5 missiles close to the borders with India and developed contingency plans to shift airborne forces at short notice to the region”. With the level of tension already high along the India-China border, this can further complicate the situation and may lead to worsening of relations. This coupled with the increased development by China of rail and road infrastructure in the border regions shows that the PRC is working towards having complete command in these areas. In any situation of conflict it could manoeuvre manpower and other requirements with ease. But this too is something which India has been aware for a very long time. Although bilateral economic ties between India and China are growing stronger, there is always this threat of a military confrontation due to the unresolved border issue.

    Even though the report is fairly cautious in what it says and does not highlight anything new, the reactions on the Chinese side have not been that positive. Beijing has stated that the report attempts to exaggerate the existing military capabilities that the PRC posseses. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu has said that "We firmly oppose this report." She also added that this looks like an attempt to blame China for existing problems in Sino-US bilateral relations. The Chinese have reiterated that they believe in peaceful development and that they are following a defensive national policy. With such strong reactions from Beijing, it appears that this may take a toll on US-China bilateral relations. This appears especially so given that the US has approved the sale of radar equipment for Taiwan's air force.

    It is significant that the report was released after a delay of five months. Some have argued that this report was not released keeping in mind the positive trends in US-China bilateral relations, but released only now following the Yellow Sea ‘conflict’ of July 2010. A few months back there was a diplomatic disconnect between the US and China over the issue of US arms sales to Taiwan and the Obama administration had been working hard to get relations back to normal.

    Another possible reason for delaying the Report could be to maintain the US Defence Budget high by projecting the China threat as justification. And the strong reaction from Beijing only helps the American cause. The complex dualism of the economic and political aspect of the US-China relationship points to the ongoing ‘cold war’, with both sides showing willingness to engage in a war of words with increasing frequency. Is it also an attempt to showcase to domestic constituencies the level of challenge that the other country poses in response to which they appear to be doing the right thing?