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The Pentagon’s annual review of Beijing’s military power paints the picture of a nation eager to challenge the United States in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, and Washington’s apparent willingness to try to balance the federal budget on the backs of the Armed Forces paints the picture of a nation that will be unprepared to meet that challenge.
According to the Pentagon report, “by the latter half of the current decade, China will likely be able to project and sustain a modest-sized force, perhaps several battalions of ground forces or a naval flotilla of up to a dozen ships, in low-intensity operations far from China. This evolution will lay the foundation for a force able to accomplish a broader set of regional and global objectives.” In conjunction with its buildup of these ground, sea and air assets, Beijing is building aerospace and cyberspace capabilities to wage—or at least to threaten—asymmetrical war against the United States.
In short, in the span of a decade or so, China’s military has evolved from a 1960s-vintage territorial army barely able to defend its coastal areas into an increasingly high-tech, power-projecting force with global reach and global ambitions.
DoD estimates China’s “total military-related spending for 2010 was over $160 billion.” With those financial resources, “China is developing measures to deter or counter third-party intervention, including by the United States.” Among China’s growing arsenal of anti-access weapons are anti-ship missiles with a range exceeding 1,500 km, upgraded B-6 bombers armed with a new long-range cruise missile, an emerging aircraft-carrier capability, and 75 surface combatants, more than 60 submarines and 85 missile-equipped small boats. All of these are aimed at dissuading the United States from getting involved in areas of interest to China—and ultimately chasing the United States out of the Asia-Pacific region.
Although the DoD reports that “China has settled eleven land disputes with six of its neighbors since 1998,” it adds that China has “maritime boundary disputes with Japan, and throughout the South China Sea with Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Taiwan.” These disputes are highlighted by almost-weekly headlines detailing Chinese bullying on the high seas.
Adm. Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, adds that “the scope and pace of…modernization without clarity on China’s ultimate goals remains troubling. For example, China continues to accelerate its offensive air and missile developments without corresponding public clarification about how these forces will be utilized. Of particular concern is the expanding inventory of ballistic and cruise missiles (which include anti-ship capability) and the development of modern, fourth- and fifth-generation stealthy combat aircraft.”
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