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US Task Force Estimates Chinese Military Capabilities Rising Steadily - 2003-05-24

A U.S. task force says Friday that China's military capabilities are steadily on the rise, but remain decades behind the United States.

The 92 page report was prepared by a research group led by former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown. Mr. Brown said a desire to not repeat the mistakes of the Cold War era was one of the motivating factors behind the report on the Chinese military. "One of the lessons of the Cold War with the Soviets was that it was important to have a correct, balanced view of what the capabilities of another country are. If you didn't get that right, you'd make mistakes. We do not know, in the long run, whether [China] will be a strategic competitor or military adversary, but it would be important to have a reasoned judgment as to what its military capabilities were, vis-ŕ-vis the United States, and what they might be in the future," he said.

Secretary Brown said that although China is likely to become the predominant military power in Asia, it will not be a peer competitor of the U.S. military for at least two decades. But, he said, that situation may change. "They have been developing their capabilities at a steadily improving rate. The report indicates a number of things to look out for, indicators of increasing capability, such things as precision guided munitions, joint exercises, training, military logistic capability and so forth," he said. "We can expect those to increase as their gross domestic product increases, and their military expenditures increase with it."

The report identifies the Taiwan Strait as an area of concern, indicating that although U.S. forces would win in a conflict with China, China could "impose serious risks and costs" on the U.S. military if the United States fought China over Taiwan.

Secretary Brown said the report recommends increased interaction between the U.S. and Chinese militaries as a means of avoiding another Cold War situation. "A knowledge on the part of each of the militaries on both sides, of what the other is thinking, is a useful way to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to crises. Increasing the transparency of what the Chinese are doing would reduce misconceptions," he said.

The report, published by the non-partisan group, New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, further predicts that the United States "will continue to possess overwhelming dominance over China's nuclear forces for the foreseeable future." Secretary Brown is optimistic about how the Chinese will react to the report. He thinks China might be reassured to see that a group of U.S. experts sees no need for the United States to enter into an arms race with the People's Republic of China.