By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 20, 2005 11:39 AM
BEIJING, July 20 -- The Chinese government on Wednesday rejected a new Pentagon report that describes its military modernization program as a potential threat to U.S. forces and other regional powers, saying the assessment "ignores the facts" and "rudely interferes in China's internal affairs."
In a sharply worded statement, a senior Foreign Ministry official, Yang Jiechi, defended China's "normal national defense building and military deployments" and accused the Defense Department of "scheming to use this as an excuse to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan," the self-governing island Beijing claims is part of Chinese territory and threatens to seize by force.
"What authority does the United States have to gesticulate and make improper comments about China's defensive national defense policy and measures?" Yang asked, arguing that the U.S. military budget is nearly 18 times the size of China's. "China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition," he added.
The statement came in response to the Pentagon's annual report on Chinese military power, which was released Tuesday after weeks of intense debate within the Bush administration on how to depict Beijing's intentions. The final, 45-page report avoids rhetoric casting China as an inevitable foe, but argues that its military build-up is broadening the reach of Chinese forces and poses a potential threat to Taiwan, to neighbors such as Japan and India and to the U.S. military in the Pacific.
The report says China is improving and expanding its nuclear arsenal, fielding more advanced missiles capable of striking "virtually all of the United States," and predicts that total Chinese defense spending could grow to $90 billion this year, making the country's military budget the world's third-largest, after the United States and Russia. But the report also says China's ability to project its conventional military power remains limited.
Yang, a vice foreign minister and former Chinese ambassador to Washington, said the report made "unwarranted charges" and defended the rapid rise in Chinese military outlays as a natural outcome of the country's economic growth. He said most of the new spending has been devoted to improving the living conditions of troops, adding that the military has also "updated some weapons equipment" to guarantee Chinese security in a complex international environment.
"That is a right that China, as a sovereign state, should have, and other countries have no right to interfere," he said.
The exchange of words comes at a sensitive moment in U.S.-China relations, days before Beijing is scheduled to host a new round of talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program and months before Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit the United States amid intensifying complaints in Congress about his government's trade practices.