Peter Foster – Telegraph.co.uk August 25, 2011
China will have a modern military capable of force-projection and sustained high-intensity combat as early as the end of this decade, an annual Pentagon report into the state of China’s armed forces has claimed.
New aircraft carriers, a stealth fighter program, carrier-killing ballistic missiles, improved cyberwarfare techniques and a doctrine of “space dominance” would all contribute to China’s ambitious plans to modernise its 2.3million-strong People’s Liberation Army.
The annual report comes as the US, Japan and several of China’s smaller neighbours in the South China Sea voice concerns both about China’s investment in offensive weapons technologies and Beijing’s belligerent and bullying attitude towards regional disputes.
China rebuffed the 94-page report, accusing the Pentagon of “overlooking the country’s peaceful defence policy” and “interfering” over Taiwan, the island that split from China in 1949 but that Beijing yearns to see re-united with mainland.
China’s embassy in Washington described the report as “a reflection of Cold War mentality” that would needlessly be used to depict China as a threat and urged the US to “to work with China” to create healthy military ties between the two powers.
Relations have improved this year with the chiefs of both armed forces paying reciprocal visits to each other after a bruising 2009-2010 that saw a virtual severing of formal, high-level defence contacts between the US and China.
The report estimated that China spent US$160billion (£98billion) on its armed forces and other military-related projects in 2010. That is nearly double its officially declared defence budget – but still far short of the US$700billion spent by America on its forces over the same period.
Examining the readiness of China’s new weapons, the report said that China’s carrier program would not be operational until 2015 at the earliest, while its Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter would not be ready until 2018.
Of more immediate impact to US forces in the Pacific is the Dong Feng, or “East Wind”, DF-21D carrier-killing ballistic missile which the report estimates is already in the early stages of being operational.
Despite China’s repeated assurances that it plans a “peaceful rise”, the US and many regional powers are openly expressing concerns about China’s military build-up and questioning why China feel it necessary to develop offensive weapons capabilities.
“The pace and scope of China’s sustained military investments have allowed China to pursue capabilities that we believe are potentially destabilizing to regional military balances,” said Michael Schiffer, a deputy assistant secretary of defence, releasing the report in Washington..
“Whether or not this (China’s carrier program) proves to be a net plus for the region or for the globe or proves to be something that has destabilizing effects and raises blood pressure in various regional capitals I think remains to be seen,” he added.
Aside from strengthening its traditional capabilities, China was also investing heavily to increase its abilities in the modern battlegrounds of cyber-space, satellites and information-networking needed to co-ordinate modern armed forces.
The People’s Liberation Army had set up “information warfare units” to attack enemy computer systems and protect Chinese networks, the report said, while seeking technologies to improve China’s space and counter-space capabilities.
China’s military strategists “regard the ability to utilise space and deny adversaries access to space as central to enabling modern, informatized warfare.”