China's military modernization program has made considerable progress in building and fielding credible and capable military power with regional and strategic implications, a new Pentagon report says.
"The United States welcomes the rise of a stable, peaceful and prosperous China, and encourages China to participate responsibly in world affairs by taking on a greater share of the burden for the stability, resilience and growth of the international system," according to the latest annual assessment of China's military power. Military Power of the People's Republic of China 2009 was released March 25.
The report states that "much uncertainty surrounds China's future course, particularly regarding how its expanding military power might be used."
China's People's Liberation Army - which includes the army, navy and air force - has been changing from a mass army designed for protracted land wars of attrition in China to one that can fight and win short-term, high-intensity conflicts along China's borders against better-equipped and better-trained armies. China's effort to make the shift from a revolutionary army to a modern, high-technology armed force has been fueled by the acquisition of advanced foreign weapons, high rates of investment in the domestic defense and science and technology industries, and significant reforms in the armed forces' organization and doctrine, the report said.
China's sustained economic growth from a gross domestic product of $1.95 trillion in 2000 to a projected $4.19 trillion in 2008 has enabled the country to focus greater resources on building up its armed forces without overwhelming its economy, the report said. One significant measure of the progress China is making toward modernized armed forces is its annual budget for defense spending. In 2000, China spent an estimated $27.9 billion on defense, and in 2008 that amount increased to $60.1 billion, though the budget does not account for all defense spending, the report said. Some defense spending is included in other budget areas such as science and technology.
"China's ability to sustain military power at a distance remains limited, but its armed forces continue to develop and field disruptive military technologies," the report said. In particular, China has made great strides in developing nuclear, space and cyberwarfare technologies, the report said. According to the Pentagon report, China has not fully developed the capability to sustain military or naval forces far beyond its immediate region for long periods of time.
These improvements are changing the regional military balance and have implications across and beyond the East Asia-Pacific region.
Even while relations between Taiwan and China improve, the Chinese armed forces modernization has continued to build up short-range missiles opposite Taiwan across the Taiwan Strait. "In the near term, China's armed forces are rapidly developing coercive capabilities for the purpose of deterring Taiwan's pursuit of ... independence," the report said.
China increasingly has become capable of contributing cooperatively to the international community's responsibilities in areas such as peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and combating maritime piracy, the Pentagon said.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said March 25 that the report, which is required by Congress annually, provides some new details, some additional specificity, but no new major strategic insights regarding capabilities.
"Of course, we acknowledge we can't see all, so we have advocated time and again for more dialogue and transparency in our dealings with the Chinese government and military, all in an effort to reduce suspicions on both sides," Morrell said. "The objective of this report is to give a clear and factual description of Chinese military capabilities."
The full text of Military Power of the People's Republic of China 2009 (PDF, 78 pages) is available on the Defense Department Web site.