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 that 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 said, adding that "China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition."
Yang asserted that the U.S. military budget is nearly 18 times the size of China's. U.S. officials have argued that the Chinese spend far more on the military than they acknowledge.
Beijing's statement came in response to the Pentagon's annual report on Chinese military power, which was released Tuesday after weeks of 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 buildup is broadening the reach of Chinese forces and poses a potential threat to Taiwan, neighbors such as Japan and India, and the U.S. military in the Pacific.
The report says China is improving and expanding its nuclear arsenal and fielding more advanced missiles capable of striking "virtually all of the United States." The report also 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 assessment says China's ability to project its conventional military power remains limited.
Yang, a vice foreign minister and former ambassador to Washington, 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, arguing that the report made "unwarranted charges."
The exchange of words comes at a sensitive moment in U.S.-China relations. The Chinese government is scheduled to host a new round of talks starting Tuesday aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit the United States this year as complaints are intensifying in Congress about his government's trade practices.