Red Alert: China is sending misleading messages about its massive military buildup.
Last week China’s Communist regime published the every-second-year edition of its defense white paper, “China’s National Defense in 2010,” which claims to promote transparency in its defense planning and deepen international trust, and asserts that its security policy is defensive in nature. But the paper’s messages are not supported by the facts.
Consider five of the many misleading messages imbedded in the 30-page defense white paper.
First, “China attaches great importance to military transparency,” the paper claims. The Pentagon takes issue with that view in a report, stating, “The limited transparency in China’s military and security affairs enhances uncertainty and increases the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation.”
China fails the transparency test by understating its defense spending. The Pentagon’s 2010 report on China’s military estimates Beijing’s total military-related spending for 2009 was more than $150 billion, but the white paper claims it spent about half that amount, $75.56 billion (495.11 billion RMB). The difference, according to the Pentagon, is due to the fact that China’s defense budget “does not include major categories of expenditure,” but the report fails to identify those categories.
China’s defense spending increased annually for more than two decades, but the white paper states, “The growth rate of defense expenditure has decreased.” That statement is refuted by China’s official 2011 defense budget, which is $92 billion, up 12.7% from 2010, which grew from 7.5% during the previous year.
The Pentagon report also states China isn’t transparent regarding its growing force-projection capabilities. For example, the so-called transparent white paper does not mention Beijing’s plan to deploy an aircraft carrier known to be under construction. A question about the carrier was posed at the press conference announcing the white paper, but was never answered.
Second, “The Chinese government has advocated from the outset the peaceful use of outer space, and opposes any weaponization of outer space,” according to the white paper.
China’s anti-space weaponization view hasn’t stopped it from developing its own space weapon, however. The white paper makes no mention of China’s 2007 successful direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons test, which destroyed its own satellite in space. “The test raised questions about China’s capability and intention to attack U.S. satellites,” according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.
The Pentagon’s report states, “China continues to develop and refine this [ASAT] system, which is one component of a multidimensional program to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by potential adversaries during times of crisis or conflict.” The report also indicates China is developing kinetic and directed-energy weapons for ASAT missions.
Gen. Xu Qiliang, commander of China’s air force, appears to confirm the Pentagon’s analysis. He said in 2009 that military competition extending to space is “inevitable” and emphasized the transformation of China’s air force into one that “integrates air and space” with both “offensive [read ASAT] and defensive” capabilities, according to the Pentagon’s report.
Third, “China firmly opposes the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction [WMD] and their means of delivery.” The paper also states “nonproliferation issues should be resolved through political and diplomatic means” and then cites as examples the nuclear crises with North Korea and Iran .
Even though China is a signatory to various nonproliferation treaties, it is arguably the world’s biggest WMD supplier. A March 2011 CRS report states, “China has been a ‘key supplier’ of technology … providing nuclear and missile-related technology to Pakistan and missile-related technology to Iran .”
CRS documents China’s proliferation activities beginning in 1982. It transferred sensitive material and tools for making atomic bombs to Pakistan such as uranium hexafluoride gas, ring magnets, and “high-tech diagnostic equipment.” Pakistan then sold that technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya, according to then- CIA Director George Tenet.
Fourth, “China pursues a national defense policy which is defensive in nature.” The white paper also claims, “China unswervingly takes the road of peaceful development.” But China’s weapons-building spree confirms it seeks a significant offensive capacity, and its military action identifies it as a regional hegemon, not a peaceful neighbor.
Three weapons platforms strongly suggest China seeks a robust offensive capacity. In January, while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Beijing, the Chinese military tested a J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighter. That sophisticated platform is primarily for undetected, long-range offensive operations and shares state-of-the-art technology with the F-22 Raptor, America’s best fighter.
In December, Adm. Robert Willard, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) known as an “aircraft carrier killer.” The 1,500-mile range DF-21 ASBM is an offensive platform that uses a space-based maritime surveillance and targeting system that permits it to strike moving warships at sea.
China also plans to build a fleet of aircraft carriers this decade, according to the Pentagon report. It already has the ex-Varyag—a former soviet Kuznetsovclass aircraft carrier in the Dalian shipyard—and a program to train pilots operating fixed-wing aircraft from a carrier.
China is using its sophisticated blue-water navy, which numbers 260 vessels, including 75 major warships and more than 60 submarines, to expand its sphere of influence through intimidation, especially in the South China Sea, which some Chinese officials label a “core interest.” Last year, the New York Times reported Chinese officials told Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg that China would not tolerate “foreign interference” in the South China Sea, and its actions back up that view.
China’s navy aggressively seizes fishing boats near contested South China Sea islands hundreds of miles from the mainland and harasses Japanese aircraft and ships in the East China Sea near Japanese islands. That aggression is not limited to regional players, however.
Starting in 2000, China became provocative toward American naval forces. In 2001, a Chinese fighter collided with a U.S. Navy aircraft, forcing the American crew to land at China’s Hainan Island.
Harassment on the sea is more common. From 2001 to 2009, Chinese warships and aircraft harassed and threatened the USNS Bowditch, USNS Sumner, USNS Impeccable, and the USNS Victorious. In 2006, a Chinese Song-class submarine surfaced dangerously near the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. In each case, China violated international law.
Finally, “China maintains that the global missile defense program will be detrimental to international strategic balance and stability [and] no state should deploy overseas missile defense systems [ballistic missile defense] …” This hypocritical comment is targeted at the U.S., which has both land- and sea-based systems. America’s sea-based Aeigis ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems often sail near North Korea’s coast, protecting our allies from China’s rogue partner.
Apparently China wants to limit America’s BMD capability until it can acquire one of its own. Currently China has a limited capability against tactical ballistic missiles with ranges up to 300 miles. But the Pentagon report states China is “proceeding with the research and development of a missile defense ‘umbrella’ consisting of kinetic energy intercept at exo-atmospheric altitudes, as well as intercepts of ballistic missiles and other aerospace vehicles within the upper atmosphere.”
China’s 2010 white paper is chock-full of misleading messages that deny transparency, promote distrust, and demonstrate the regime’s hegemonic ambitions. Unless China changes its actions, America has no choice but to conclude Beijing’s intent is to become the world’s dominant military power.