Is DoD Annual Report on China 20/20?
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military power received the expected retort from Beijing: accusations that U.S. officials were using “Cold War thinking” and hyping the “China Threat.” The March 3 report arrived one day before Beijing released its own account of its 2008 defense budget: $58.8 billion for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), up 17.6 percent from the official 2007 figure of $46 billion.
At a news conference, National People’s Congress spokesman Jiang Enzhu sought to depict the number as moderate.
“China’s military expenditure accounted for only 1.4 percent of GDP, the lowest compared with 4.6 percent in the United States, 3 percent in Britain, 2 percent in France, 2.63 percent in Russia and 2.5 percent in India,” Jiang said.
He also said the country’s defense budget rose an average of 15.8 percent annually from 2003 to 2007.
Pentagon officials put China’s actual 2007 spending at $97 billion to $139 billion.
China-watcher Richard Bitzinger said that even if the budget were actually $58.8 billion, that would still be more than any country in Asia.
In 2007, Japan spent $43.6 billion on defense; India, $28.5 billion; South Korea, $26.9 billion; Taiwan, $9.58 billion; and Singapore, $7.24 billion, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ “Military Balance” reference.
Yet China’s defense budget does not include large categories of expenditure, such as expenses for strategic forces, foreign acquisitions, military-related research and development and China’s paramilitary forces, according to the Pentagon’s report.
Add all that up, and “China is easily the second-highest defense spender in the world,” said Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore.
Dennis Blasko, who was a U.S. Army attaché in Beijing from 1992 to 1996, called this year’s edition of the Pentagon’s report much better than last year’s and “the dismal 2006 report.”
But Blasko, the author of the book, “The Chinese Army Today,” said the report failed to address certain important subjects in depth, including force structure, training and doctrine. Though the report’s coverage of the increase in missiles, anti-ship missile developments, cyberwarfare efforts and espionage are a significant part of the report, he said, it failed to explain how “these developments need to be understood in the larger context of the PLA in general and how the PLA is actually planning and training to fight or, of equal importance, how it seeks to deter war and achieve its strategic objectives without fighting.”
The year 2020 appears frequently in the report, which says China has set that year as the deadline for many achievements, including the construction of 30 gigawatt nuclear power reactors, the development of a well-educated and technically capable officer corps, an innovationoriented society, and a manned lunar landing.
Blasko said the date, “set by the Chinese as an intermediate point in the PLA’s long-term modernization, actually conforms well” to the report’s estimates that China will not be able to project and sustain small military units far beyond its own shores before 2015, and will not be able to project and sustain large forces in distant combat operations until well into the following decade.
China’s military growth and prowess could endanger the Japan U.S. security alliance.
“Although the DoD report indicates various problems of China’s military growth, the Japanese government’s actual acknowledgement regarding this problem is unfortunately very poor,” said Naoki Akiyama, director of the Tokyo-based Congressional National Security Research Group.
“We, who are actually in the position to tackle these problems, must be aware of the seriousness of this issue. China’s military growth is striking out rapidly, and may catch up with the U.S. in the next 10 years. The growth in the high-tech area is notable, and we assume that China is spending about three or four times in expenditure than officially announced.” Akiyama said Japan has helped modernize China’s military through technology transfers and business ventures.
“Although we are trying to prevent our technology drain, it is a fact that modern technologies are being transferred to China every day,” he said. “It is a matter of practice for [Japanese] professionals of modern technology to go to and come back from China, without any intention of extending the military power of China.” A major shipbuilding company has established a joint venture in China, he said, and “Japan’s carbon fiber industry is also getting hit hard there, too,” with technology being lost to China.
The report noted China’s continued progress in ballistic and cruise missiles, with more weapons aimed at Taiwan and the deployment of mobile DF-31s that allow the PLA for the first time to strike Washington and New York.
“By November 2007, the PLA had deployed between 990 and 1,070 CSS-6 [DF-15] and CSS-7 [DF-11] short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to garrisons opposite Taiwan. It is increasing the size of this force at a rate of more than 100 missiles per year,” the report said.
”The fact that China continues to deploy missiles opposite Taiwan is politically significant for the obvious reasons, and curious from an oper ational point of view as well,” said Thomas Kane, the author of “Chinese Grand Strategy and Maritime Power.” He noted that missiles armed with conventional warheads have seldom proved particularly effective in war.
“The fact that the PRC not only deploys them but is continuing to build up its stockpiles suggests that its commanders either have new ideas about how to use them, see them as substitutes for some capability Beijing still lacks, plan to arm them with something other than conventional warheads, or some combination of the above,” he said. China also is developing a variant of the CSS-5 (DF-21) ballistic missile that can sink ships, part of its effort to prevent U.S. naval forces from coming to Taiwan’s aid.
Praise for Taiwan
In a rare departure from previous reports, Taiwan received praise for passing a long-stalled $19.4 billion budget in 2007.
“Taiwan recently reversed the trend of the past several years of declining defense expenditures; it is also modernizing select capabilities and improving its overall contingency training. But the balance of forces continues to shift in the mainland’s favor,” said the report.
The scope and pace of China’s military modernization raises doubts about its commitment to resolving its differences with Taiwan, said Mark Stokes, who was the U.S. defense secretary’s country director for China under the Clinton and Bush administrations.