The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pentagon cites China’s ‘tremendous progress’ in building missiles as it details Chinese military in report

A senior U.S. official also accused China of detaining Muslim minorities in ‘concentration camps.’

In April, the Chinese navy's chorus performs in Qingdao, China. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)
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China seeks to supplant the United States as the preeminent power in the Pacific, a senior Pentagon official said Friday as the Defense Department released its annual report detailing Chinese military power.

Randall Schriver, an assistant secretary of defense for Pacific affairs, said that while Beijing does not anticipate having a “world-class” military in 2049, it is rapidly advancing in several categories, including cyber warfare.

China is also making “tremendous progress” in ballistic and cruise missiles, space, artificial intelligence and high-speed missiles known as hypersonics, Schriver told reporters at the Pentagon.

“We continue to see that China seeks to erode U.S. military advantages,” he said. “And it backs these ambitions with significant resourcing, which translates into real capabilities and capacity."

The Pentagon has released reports about China’s military for years, but they have taken on new emphasis as the Defense Department reorients toward the rise of “great power competition” against China and Russia, and moves away from making its primary focus counterinsurgency fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“As the National Defense Strategy lays out, the strategic competition with China will be the primary concern for the U.S. national security for years to come,” Charles E. Summers Jr., the chief Pentagon spokesman, said Friday.

The report highlights concerns about China that include its efforts to develop antisatellite weapons, field long-range rocket artillery systems that can hit targets across the Taiwan Strait and deepen its influence abroad to build military bases in other parts of the world.

The report also cites China’s mass detention of more than 1 million minority Muslim Uighur people in its Xinjiang region, a point that Schriver underscored Friday by saying security forces are imprisoning “Chinese Muslims in concentration camps.” He said he thinks its an “appropriate description," given that “at least a million but likely closer to 3 million citizens” in Xinjiang are detained.

Overall, the Pentagon seems especially concerned about the broad array and volume of China’s missiles. A specific unit, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, oversees China’s land-based missiles, including anti-ship and land-attack weapons, the report said.

The DF-26 missile — sometimes called the “carrier killer” for the threats it poses to enemy aircraft carriers — is “capable of conducting conventional and nuclear precision strikes against ground targets as well as conventional strikes against naval targets in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans and the South China Sea,” the report states.

China also has about 750 to 1,500 short-range ballistic missiles capable of being launched up to 621 miles, about 150 to 450 medium-range ballistic missiles that can travel up to 1,864 miles, and about 270 to 540 ground-launched land-attack cruise missiles.

Schriver said the track record of China’s “predatory economics” also is becoming clear. Chinese investment, which some countries have welcomed, can come with strings attached in which China can assert control over ports and airstrips, U.S. officials have said.

“I think we can offer alternatives. We can also offer alternatives alongside our partners and allies," Schriver said. “I don’t think we’re as concerned with the dollar-for-dollar, side-by-side comparison with China, because what we offer are clean, transparent, scandal-free approaches that benefit the people of the recipient countries, not just a few of the corrupt elites.”‘‘