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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

China threat: Now you see it, now you don't

August 21, 2010

By David Isenberg
Asia Times
August 20, 2010

It's that time of year again; the time when the
Pentagon rolls out its annual threat assessment
on China. The Pentagon has been issuing these
reports since 2000, pursuant to US law. This year
the 74-page "2010 Annual Report to Congress on
Military and Security Developments Involving the
People's Republic of China" [1] will undoubtedly
be a disappointment to those conservatives who
are looking to depict China as a menacing
strategic competitor to the United States.

While the executive summary includes the usual
warnings about China's pursuit of new military
capabilities, it also pointedly notes that
"[E]arlier this decade, China began a new phase
of military development by articulating roles and
missions for the People's Liberation Army (PLA)
that go beyond China's immediate territorial interests.

"Some of these missions and associated
capabilities have allowed the PLA to contribute
to international peacekeeping efforts,
humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and
counter-piracy operations. The United States
recognizes and welcomes these contributions," the report notes.

Even after listing the usual warnings about
improved capabilities in anti-access, area-denial
strategies, and extended-range power projection,
the report says, "China's ability to sustain
military power at a distance, today, remains limited."

The document had been due to be read at congress
on March 1 but was held up by the Barack Obama
administration due to an internal dispute over
whether the report's listing of China's military
establishment, which is carried out annually, would anger Beijing.

This year the report addresses for the first time
the on-again, off-again military exchanges
between China and the Pentagon. China's military
twice since October 2008 has cut off exchanges to
protest US arms sales to Taiwan. The new section
lists scores of past military exchanges between
the Pentagon and China's military and a long list
of exchanges planned for 2010 that were put on
hold by the Chinese suspension of the exchange program.

As one might expect, the report confirmed what is
obvious to all analysts; China is developing into
an economic superpower, and that growth is
allowing the Chinese government to invest more in
its military. Thus China is continuing a massive
effort to modernize its military and transform
its structure, doctrine and strategy. In fact,
much the same thing was said in June when the US
Army's Strategic Studies Institute published a
study "The PLA at Home and Abroad: Assessing the
Operational Capabilities of China's Military."
That report was issued on July 6, a day after
China's economy was recognized as the world's
second biggest, eclipsing Japan's in size during
the second quarter of this year.

The report noted that China is changing the way
it thinks about its military. In the past, its
forces concentrated on guarding China's
sovereignty, which implied that China's fighting
men would not stray far from the country's
borders. Now that thinking has evolved to a
strategy designed to protect China's interests,
including economic ones, that span the globe.

One might say the report was rather conciliatory
in tone. That would explain why US House Armed
Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton released a statement which concluded:

"I continue to believe that China is not
necessarily destined to be a threat to the United
States and that China doesn't need to view the
United States as a threat to its interests. Yet,
conflict between our nations remains a
possibility, and we must remain prepared for
whatever the future holds in the US-China
security relationship. At the same time, we must
each be mindful that our actions can produce
unintended consequences, and although cooperation
is a difficult path, it is ultimately the path
that is in both nations' best interest."

Skelton is usually seen as being in agreement with the Pentagon on most issues.

China's overall military spending for 2009 was
estimated at $150 billion, an increase of 7.5% to
532.11 billion yuan ($78.4 billion). This was
only about one-fifth of what the Pentagon spent
last year on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As one would expect a primary potential
flashpoint is Taiwan. 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.

Among the specific military developments the
report focused on was the fact that China has the
most active land-based ballistic and cruise
missile program in the world. It is also
developing an anti-ship ballistic missile with a
range of more than 1,500 kilometers that is
capable of attacking aircraft carriers in the
western Pacific. There was also a first mention
of a new multiple-warhead, long-range road-mobile
missile, and details on China's plan to field aircraft carriers.

The report noted that analysts believe China will
not have a domestically produced aircraft carrier
and associated ships for another five years,
although foreign assistance could speed up that
process. It also predicts: "It is unlikely ...
that China will be able to project and sustain
large forces in high-intensity combat operations
far from China until well into the following decade."

The goal of these forces is to have forces that
can attack US ships should conflict erupt over Taiwan.

Other anti-access weapons are China's
medium-range missiles "designed to target forces
at sea, combined with overhead and
over-the-horizon targeting systems to locate and
track moving ships." Other weapons include Luyang
1- and 2-class guided-missile ships and
Russian-made Sovremenny-class missile ships. The
ships are equipped with advanced long-range
anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles.

China also has six nuclear-powered attack
submarines and 54 diesel-electric powered
submarines, many of them outfitted with advanced anti-ship cruise missiles.

For anti-access air strikes, the Chinese have
indigenous FB-7 and FB-7A jets, and Russian
SU-30s. All the jets are armed with anti-ship cruise missiles.

The report noted increased participation in
peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and
disaster relief operations. Since 2002, China's
contributions to United Nations (UN)-sponsored
peace operations have increased. More than 2,100
on-duty Chinese personnel are at present serving
in UN missions, with a total contribution of more
than 12,000 personnel deployed to 22 missions.
China is now the leading contributor of
peacekeeping personnel among the five permanent
members of the UN Security Council.

1. 2010 Annual Report to Congress on Military and
Security Developments Involving the Peoples Republic of China
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