Chinese Buildup Seen as Threat to Region

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 20, 2005

China's military buildup is broadening the reach of its forces in Asia and poses a long-term threat not only to Taiwan but to the U.S. military in the Pacific and to regional powers such as India and Japan, according to an assessment released yesterday by the Pentagon.

The Beijing government is also improving and expanding its nuclear arsenal, fielding more advanced nuclear missiles capable of striking India, Russia and "virtually all of the United States," said the annual China military power report, based on U.S. intelligence and mandated by Congress. The report, however, said China's ability to project its conventional military power remains limited.

China's defense spending could grow to $90 billion in 2005 -- three times the Chinese government's official figure -- making the country's military budget the world's third-largest, after the United States and Russia, and the biggest in Asia.

The report comes as the Pentagon focuses on China's steady military modernization as a driving force in long-range U.S. defense strategy and overseas basing, American military officials and analysts say. It generated intense debate within the Bush administration, with the State Department pushing for a benign depiction of China's intentions, while the Pentagon sought to emphasize a potentially insidious threat, defense officials said.

The report suggests a renewed wariness of China on the part of the Bush administration, which has collaborated with Beijing on the effort to curb North Korea's nuclear programs and in the fight against terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Yesterday's report reflected the fact that over the last several years, China's massive investment in defense has become far more stark and deliberate.

"Without a doubt, the direction Chinese military modernization has taken in recent years absolutely represents a growing threat to the U.S.," said Evan Medeiros, an expert on China's military at the Rand Corp. Still, several analysts agreed that U.S. military dominance in the region is secure for at least another decade.

The Pentagon's 45-page report is factual in tone, avoiding inflammatory rhetoric that would paint China as an inevitable foe. But it stresses that Beijing's future course is highly uncertain, and contains detailed charts documenting significant increases in weaponry and military investment.

Many of the advances reflect China's long-standing priority on building a force capable of preventing Taiwan from achieving formal independence from the mainland..

Last year, China expanded the number of mobile, CSS-6 and CSS-7 short-range ballistic missiles deployed on the coast opposite Taiwan from 500 to between 650 and 730. The increase signifies a faster buildup, now at a rate of about 100 missiles per year, while the range and accuracy of the missiles is also improving, the report said.

China now has more than 700 aircraft that can fly to Taiwan without refueling, including new advanced Russian Su-30 and Su- 27 fighter jets and a newly completed indigenous fighter, the F-10, which will be fielded for the first time this year.

In contrast to previous reports, this year's places a heavier emphasis on the threat posed by the modernization of the People's Liberation Army to other regional powers beyond Taiwan and to U.S. forces in Asia, as well as to the continental United States.

"Over the long term, if current trends persist, PLA capabilities could pose a credible threat to other modern militaries operating in the region," the report said.

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