U.S. Officials Call for Greater Openness by Chinese Military

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he wishes the Chinese leadership would talk more openly about its military strategy and what is driving its need for sophisticated defense capabilities.

Gates, commenting on the release of the Defense Department annual report to Congress on China’s military power, said the document reflects the Pentagon’s wish that the Chinese would display greater transparency about their military intentions.

There are opportunities for the Chinese to share this information through high-level visits as part of officer and educational exchanges, ship visits, and ongoing discussions about avian influenza, military assistance and disaster relief.

The Defense Department is watching the steady growth of China’s military strength. A Defense Department official told reporters at a May 25 Pentagon background briefing that the United States also sees a modest expansion in Chinese transparency – particularly with respect to its 2006 defense background paper - but that overall the process is still “far from complete.”

During the briefing about the report, one of the two defense officials (both declined to be identified) said the United States “would like to have greater insight” into China’s military intentions and the reasoning behind those intentions.

China’s military pursuits, he continued, support the U.S. view that China is an emerging political and economic regional power “with global aspirations.”  He said the United States still seeks to begin talks with the Chinese on nuclear doctrine and strategy.

The other defense official said the United States is awaiting a response from China about a proposal to establish a telephone hot line between the two nations and an exchange of commanders who oversee strategic forces.  (See related article.)

In key developments since the release of the 2006 report, China has:

• Conducted a successful anti-satellite test in January;

• Deployed approximately 200 additional ballistic missiles across from Taiwan; and

• Readied the DF-31 intercontinental ballistic missile for use.

These actions took place in the context of a prevailing lack of openness, the official said, “which remains a real problem.”

The discrepancy in what the Chinese say they are spending on the military – publicly projected at $45 billion – and more realistic assessments ranging from $85 billion to $125 billion, he said, “is emblematic of our concern over lack of transparency.”

This is not just a matter of concern in the context of the bilateral relationship, the official said, but it is an issue of interest within the Asia-Pacific region and perhaps beyond.

At the behest of Congress, the report examines the theory that China might be developing a pre-emptive military strategy.  During the past decade, the document says, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has transformed from an infantry-dominated force to a more modern force with long-range, precision-strike weapons and equipment that could support a surprise attack along its borders.

“China’s acquisition of power projection assets, including long-distance military communications systems; airborne command, control and communications aircraft; long-endurance submarines; unmanned combat aerial vehicles and additional precision-guided air-to-ground missiles indicate that the PLA is generating a greater capability for military preemption,” according to the report’s analysis.

The official also talked about China’s interest in Africa.  He said China has demonstrated considerable interest in energy and other natural resources in Africa.  In some instances, he said, China has conducted business with countries that cause problems in the region, and further, that China’s desire to secure access to energy supplies may lead to engagements with nations that defy international norms of behavior. (See related article.)

The report also examines China’s emerging interest in developing an aircraft carrier.  In October 2006, there was an official announcement that the Chinese army would study how to produce carriers indigenously as a way to project its national interests.  A second briefing official said this reflects a growing Chinese perception that its vulnerability with respect to energy and access to natural resources is increasing.  That in turn, he added, might be driving China’s interest in building an aircraft carrier.

The full text (PDF, 42 pages) of the congressionally mandated report is available on the Defense Department Web site.

For more information, see The United States and China.