Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Pentagon Cites Concerns in China Military Growth
By THOM SHANKER New York Times WASHINGTON — China has increased spending on a military that is becoming larger and more effective even as Beijing has rebuffed exchanges with the Defense Department that could improve stability, according to a Pentagon study released Monday. Senior Pentagon officials acknowledged that much of the Chinese military modernization program may reflect the rational ambition of a rising global power, albeit one that may be a worrisome rival to American interests in the Pacific region. But across the American government — from the White House to the Pentagon to Congress — officials express concern that China’s lack of openness about the growth, capabilities and intentions of its military injects instability to a vital region of the globe. China’s overall spending on national defense for 2009 was estimated at $150 billion, an increase of 7.5 percent but only about one-fifth of what the Pentagon spent to operate and carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the study, required each year by Congress. China’s arsenal of missiles arrayed across a strait from Taiwan, an American ally considered a wayward province by Beijing, did not substantially grow in numbers but is being upgraded to be more capable, according to the review. Of the many potential points of conflict, Taiwan remains the most notable, as China froze military-to-military relations with the Defense Department earlier this year after an announcement that the United States was selling more than $6 billion in weapons to Taiwan. Administration officials say that while ties between Washington and Beijing in the areas of diplomacy and economics are improving, the military-to-military relationship is prickly and a reason for concern. Another cause of worry, according to the study, is China’s emphasis on weapons that could deny the ability of American warships to operate in international waters off the coast; those weapons include precision, long-range missiles and a growing fleet of submarines and warships. The Pentagon study said that China had an active program to develop and build several aircraft carriers, and could start construction by the end of this year. China also appears intent on expanding its arsenal of nuclear-powered submarines, with one missile-launching submarine and several hunter-killer submarines already at sea, all nuclear-powered for greater range. These nuclear-powered submarines are in addition to larger and growing numbers of diesel-powered hunter-killer submarines in the Chinese Navy, according to the study. Administration and military officials also criticized China’s actions beyond its territorial waters, particularly in the South China Sea. Pentagon officials say China’s military appears intent on extending claims for maritime jurisdiction beyond the range accepted by international law. Senior Defense Department officials who released the study declined to be drawn into a discussion of politics, but Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, the Democrat who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, expressed a view shared by the Pentagon. In a statement released Monday, Mr. Skelton said he was concerned by “ambiguities regarding China’s military modernization, including its missile buildup across from Taiwan, its maritime activities in the South China Sea, and the steady increase of its power-projection capabilities, which do not obviously support China’s stated national security objectives.” While “China has taken some steps toward increasing transparency and openness regarding its defense strategy and expenditures in recent years,” Mr. Skelton said, “such steps are modest. China’s most recent military budget continues a trend of sustained annual increases, and China’s strategic intentions remain opaque.” The Pentagon review comes as China surpassed Japan in the second quarter of the year to become the world’s No. 2 economy, after the United States.