U.S. Defense Official Says China's Military Buildup Raises Concerns

By Susan Krause
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - A lack of transparency about China's military buildup and the intentions behind it has created concern for other nations, says Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

Rodman testified on "The Military Power of the People's Republic of China" at a June 22 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

Estimates by informed sources of China's military spending vary slightly, the assistant secretary said, but all are substantially higher than the official figures released by Beijing.

"What all this means is that, in some areas, the outside world has insufficient knowledge of the assumptions, purposes, resources, and desired end-states of the Chinese military buildup," he said.  

China's rapid economic growth has supported significant defense sector investment, with double-digit percentage increases in expenditures every year for the last 15 years, Rodman told the committee. 

In March, he said, the Chinese government announced an official defense budget of about $35 billion for 2006, an increase of nearly 15 percent over the previous year.

However, that figure does not include total expenditures, he said.  "Many items are not included - foreign acquisitions, industrial subsidies, local contributions, and strategic forces."

The Defense Department estimates that China's military expenditures are actually two times to three times higher than officially published figures when such costs are included, Rodman said.  The department has calculated the actual figure for China's military expenditures at $70 billion to $105 billion. 

"At the high end, this would make China the largest defense spender in Asia," Rodman said.  Other institutions, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the RAND Corporation have arrived at similar estimates, he added.


At the Asia Security Summit in Singapore in early June, Rodman said, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld raised the issue of China's lack of transparency about its military expenditures, noting that it "understandably causes concerns" for neighboring states.  (See related article.)

"The Secretary has also questioned, in the past, the underlying reasons behind this growth and has sought to engage China in a conversation about outside perceptions of China's military modernization and doctrine," he said.

Rodman mentioned several areas of concern:

• China is developing at least 10 varieties of ballistic missiles and modernizing its older intercontinental ballistic missiles.  Almost 800 short-range ballistic missiles are deployed on the coast facing Taiwan, and that number has been increasing by about 100 missiles per year in recent years.

• China has five acquisition programs for modern submarines, including nuclear attack and nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

• At least two land-attack cruise missile programs are in development, and China also is acquiring at least 12 different types of advanced anti-ship cruise missiles.

• By increasing its air and amphibious lift capability, China is improving its capacity for expeditionary warfare.  Ground forces based opposite Taiwan have new amphibious armor.

• China has shown interest in developing an aircraft carrier and combat air wing.

In addition, Rodman said, Chinese defense officials have engaged in limited discussions of potential revisions in China's nuclear doctrine, suggesting that they are studying new options to accompany a changing force structure.

Some of these developments have immediate relevance to contingencies involving Taiwan, he said, while others have broader long-term implications.   

The United States is trying to react in a balanced way, Rodman said.  

"We are not attempting to prove or disprove a China 'threat,' " he said.  "Our goal is to let the facts speak for themselves, and to contribute useful information to the public discussion."


Despite continuing uncertainties about some of China's actions, Rodman told the committee, the Defense Department's annual report on Military Power in the People's Republic of China 2006, submitted to Congressin May, reflected improvement in overall U.S.-China relations.

"We remain focused on encouraging China to play a constructive, peaceful role in the Asia-Pacific region and to serve as a partner in addressing common security challenges, including terrorism, proliferation, narcotics, and piracy," the assistant secretary said, citing the Defense Department's recent Quadrennial Defense Review report. (See related article.)

In pursuit of improved understanding, the United States has sought to expand its contacts with China in the military field, Rodman said.  Following Rumsfeld's visit to China in October 2005, the assistant secretary said, the two countries agreed to increase senior-level contacts, military academy exchanges, and other interactions. (See related article.)

"We believe these exchanges have the potential to reduce miscalculation and contribute, over time … to 'demystifying' each other," he said, adding that he had just returned from Beijing, where he participated in annual consultations on how to improve U.S.-China defense relations.

The goal for the United States in dealing with China, Rodman said, is to "increase the common ground between us and expand those areas where the U.S. and China act responsibly together to advance peace, prosperity, and stability throughout the world."

"Both the U.S. and Chinese leadership must be - and are - realistic over our differences, but conflict between our two nations is not foreordained," he said. "With statesmanship on both sides, we can manage this relationship in a positive and constructive direction.  This is our commitment, our aspiration, and our task."

For more information on U.S. policies, see The United States and China.

The full text of Rodman's statement (PDF, 7 pages) can be found at the Web site of the House Armed Services Committee.