DoD Report on China Gets Lukewarm Reception
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — The release of the 2010 annual Pentagon report on Chinese military modernization has received a tepid response from China watchers in Washington and angry protests from Beijing.
The report, mandated by the U.S. Congress, has become a lightning rod of critics of China who say it lacks substance, and a source of complaints from Beijing, which claims the reports are part of a U.S. conspiracy to contain China.
There have been some changes in the annual report. This year, the title was altered for unclear reasons. Originally titled “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China,” it is now called “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China.” Critics say this is an attempt to placate China. If true, it appears to have failed.
China’s Ministry of National Defense spokesman, Senior Gen. Geng Yansheng, said the Pentagon has “ignored objective facts,” that the report criticizes “China’s normal national defense and military buildup,” exaggerates the “so-called Chinese mainland’s ‘military threats’ to Taiwan,” and condemns “China for suspending Sino-U.S. military exchanges, thus compromising the two countries’ military cooperation.”
China unilaterally discontinued military-tomilitary exchanges with the U.S. after Washington released $6 billion worth of arms to Taiwan in January.
Beijing later canceled a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
China has about 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, and despite improved relations across the Taiwan Strait, there has been no reduction in military force by China, the 2010 DoD report said.
The report is due March 1 each year and has been late on a number of occasions, due to both bureaucratic and political reasons. But in July, five U.S. congressmen raised suspicions the White House was interfering with the content and release of the report.
In a letter to Gates, the five congressmen reminded the defense secretary that the “responsibility for this report lies with the DoD alone” and the “lengthy delay is puzzling.” The report may be a disappointment for many; one U.S. defense industry source in Washington called it a “vanilla report.” Still, it is not viewed as a complete failure.
One area that is getting praise is the coverage of the cyber threat and “putting it in context by outlining how cyber warfare fits into the other domains of war for the PLA [People’s Liberation Army],” said Larry Wortzel of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Washington.
Another strength is the report’s coverage of strategy and deception, he said.
“There is a good treatment of the internal debate among military personnel and policy analysts in China over future roles for the PLA and an expansion of its missions [the ‘historic missions’] as security analysts in China think about regional and global issues,” he said.
“The security community inside and outside the PLA is thinking well beyond the local issue of Taiwan.” There is some criticism that the report does not give more attention to Taiwan issues.
Though quantity does not necessarily equate to quality, a word count comparing the 2008, 2009 and 2010 reports indicates Taiwan is mentioned on average 125 times in each report.
“Yet, despite devoting a chapter to the issue of Taiwan, it’s a very brief review, at the most broad level of generalities, of the things China could do to Taiwan,” said Dean Cheng at the Heritage Foundation.
"One thing that is interesting to note is the absence, in a very thick report, of any discussion of the extent of the threat posed by China’s joint forces to Taiwan,” he said. In addition, even the “threat aspect [toward Taiwan] is kind of walked back, unlike anywhere else in the report.” The tone of the DoD is “not as confrontational as previous versions,” Wortzel said. Though there is a strong call to strengthen U.S. capabilities, deterrent capabilities and regional alliances and partnerships, “there is certainly no sense that the United States will pull back from Asia,” he said.
“And the way that the report notes how China’s arms sales and military activities improved its broader diplomatic posture implies to me that the U.S. intends to redouble its own efforts in these areas, as reflected in [U.S. Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton’s remarks at ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations].”