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Pentagon Says China Working to Project Power Farther


The U.S. Defense Department has issued its annual report on China's military capability, citing continuing efforts to project Chinese power beyond its immediate region and to develop high-technology systems that can challenge the best in the world. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says some of China's efforts cause him concern. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The report says "China is pursuing long-term, comprehensive transformation of its military forces" to enable it to project power and deny other countries the ability to threaten it.

The report says China's short-term focus is on preventing Taiwan from becoming independent, and preventing the United States from helping Taiwan in any cross-straits confrontation.

But it says China is also developing weapons systems designed to protect its access to resources, particularly oil, and to compete in long-range, modern warfare with increasingly sophisticated missiles, aircraft and ships, including possibly aircraft carriers. The report says the modernization is based partly on purchases, especially from Russia, but also on increasingly capable domestic military industries.

It says China is also developing the capability to compete in outer space and systems that could attack other nations' computer networks and communications capabilities. China was widely condemned for using an anti-satellite weapon to destroy one of its own satellites in January.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates would not say which of China' military moves cause him concern, but at a news conference on Thursday he indicated he is worried about China's continuing refusal to provide detailed information about its defense capabilities. The report says secrecy is part of China's basic defense strategy.

"We wish that there were greater transparency, that they would talk more about what their intentions are, what their strategies are," said Gates. "These are assessments that are in this publication. It would be nice to hear first hand from the Chinese how they view some of these things."

In the past, China has criticized these annual Pentagon reports, which are required by congress. But Secretary Gates says the report does not exaggerate or attempt to paint China's growing capabilities as a threat.

"I think it's a realistic appraisal of the Chinese view of their own security needs and what their strategies are," said the defnese secretary. "It paints a picture of a country that has steadily devoted increasing resources to their military, that is developing some very sophisticated capabilities."

One area of ambiguity involves China's defense budget, which is officially $45 billion this year, a nearly 18 percent increase over last year. The Pentagon report says China's real defense spending is likely double or triple that figure.

The report also says China's longstanding pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons is becoming 'ambiguous,' as Chinese experts debate how to use their growing missile capabilities.

But the top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, who visited China in March, says China's current intentions are not the most important thing for him. He says the U.S. military needs to plan based on China's growing capabilities, which could be put to a variety of uses in the future.

"The most important thing from my perspective is for the United States military to stay well out ahead of any potential adversary, so that we are properly prepared should somebody's intent change to deal with that threat when it arises," he said.

The Pentagon report on China's military capability also notes that Chinese leaders have cooperated with the United States on a variety of issues, including North Korea's nuclear arsenal, and that China has a growing interest in global stability as it pursues economic development.

But the report also says China has demonstrated an increased willingness to work with rogue states and countries with poor human rights records, if those countries can help China reach its goals. It also says China has sold military technology to some countries in order to secure deals on fuel purchases.

The report calls China's efforts to modernize its forces and military doctrines "impressive," and it says there is an emphasis on what China calls "active defense," which the report's authors say means developing a preemptive strike capability, and using it if Chinese leaders feel it is necessary. The report says the concept also involves increasing China's ability to use military coercion, without actually using force.

At the same time, the report also expresses concern about potential miscalculation by Chinese leaders of their own military strength that could lead to unnecessary conflicts.

And the authors are also concerned that Chinese leaders could respond to internal dissent by launching a foreign military adventure in order to appeal to feelings nationalism and restore domestic stability. It says China's Communist Party leaders have "a deep rooted fear of losing political power" that shapes their strategic outlook and drives many of their decisions.

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