China is on course to build a modern military by 2020, a move that could threaten stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the Pentagon says.
In its annual report to the US Congress on China's defence capability, the Pentagon said China had closed key technological gaps with the US. According to the report, a main aim of this military development is to prevent possible US intervention in any conflict with Taiwan.
Download: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China
2011 [Office of the Secretary of Defense, Aug 2011] (PDF)
The report said that while China's military was focusing on a "growing array of missions", Taiwan remained its main strategic concern.
But China has criticised the US report, saying it has exaggerated the threat posed by China's military.
This year, China conducted the first test-flights of its new J20 stealth aircraft and sea trials of its first aircraft carrier. China may also begin construction on a home-grown second carrier this year. The Pentagon also believes China has developed a workable design for the world's first anti-ship ballistic missile, capable of disabling a US aircraft carrier.
Launching the report, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for East Asia Michael Schiffer said that the pace and scope of China's military investments "increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation and may contribute to regional tensions and anxieties."
But he admitted that at present China's ability to sustain military power at a distance remained limited, as developments like the new stealth fighter and aircraft carrier will take a few years to be fully operational.
The report acknowledged that China has become slightly more transparent about its military spending, but many uncertainties remain.
Report: China military 'closing key gaps', says Pentagon [BBC News, 25 Aug 2011]
Report: China Has ‘Workable’ Anti-Ship Missile Design, Pentagon Says [Bloomberg, 26 Aug 2011]
In Taiwan, media commentary on the Pentagon report has focused on the repeated references to the territory. The report comes as the US debates the sale of advanced F-16C/D jet fighters to Taiwan, a move which is certain to annoy China if it goes through.
The Obama administration says it will decide by October whether to make the sale, though there is speculation that Washington may bow to pressure from Beijing and scrap the deal, offering to upgrade Taiwan's existing older F-16s instead.
Analysis: China military has Taiwan in its sights [Taipei Times, 26 Aug 2011]
The Pentagon report also noted China's advancing space capabilities, saying China is developing an anti-satellite programme to "prevent the use of space-based assets by adversaries".
The report also discussed possible cyberattacks from China. It said that in 2010, numerous computer systems including those of the US government were the target of intrusions that appear to have originated from within China.
Last month, China Central Television aired a documentary depicting an apparent cyberattack on a US-based website belonging to the Falun Gong, and described various ways in which attacks might be conducted against servers in other countries.
But Chinese officials have insisted the attack depicted in the documentary was just creative fiction by television producers.
Analysis: China’s denials about cyberattacks undermined by video clip [Washington Post, 25 Aug 2011]
Although the Pentagon's report did not dwell on China's ties to North Korea, official visits between the two countries were listed in an appendix. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is currently visiting northeast China, after ending a trip to Russia.
Report: North Korean leader Kim visiting China [Reuters, 25 Aug 2011]
In China, the Pentagon's report has been criticised for exaggerating the threat posed by China's military to the Asia-Pacific region.
A commentary published by the Xinhua news agency said: "For many in China, it is weird that the Pentagon, whose expenditures reached nearly 700 billion U.S. dollars and accounted for over an appalling 40 percent of the world's total in 2010, routinely points its finger at China, whose military only spends a small fraction of what the Pentagon consumes every year."
"China, which has adhered to a defensive military policy, with its rising economic clout and sprawling commercial and strategic interests around the world, has every right to build a competent military."
The commentary called allegations that China poses a threat to the US and Asia an "utterly cock-and-bull story" based on "illogical reasoning". The US and China "should cherish their hard-won improved bilateral ties, particularly the military relations, instead of blaming and smearing each other."
Analysis: Despite some positive signs, Pentagon report on China still makes much ado about nothing [Xinhua, 25 Aug 2011]
According to an editorial in the China Daily, "it is not China but the US that has raised regional tensions...as the US is well aware, US arms sales to Taiwan are the most sensitive issue jamming China-US military-to-military contact. Taiwan is China's internal affair."
"China is not a threat to peace in Asia, as it will never seek hegemony or military expansion. It has solemnly reiterated on every occasion that it unswervingly adheres to a defense policy that is defensive in nature."
The editorial accused the Pentagon of using the threat of China to justify its rising defence spending to Congress.
Analysis: 'China threat' again? [China Daily, 26 Aug 2011]
According to Dr. Fan Jishe, a researcher from the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Pentagon's annual report contained more positive comments about China than previous years.
But he still does not think the report serves a positive role, beyond stirring protests from China.
Dr. Douglas Paal, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that the greatest challenge between the two countries is "deep strategic mistrust", stressing the need for more contact between military officials.
The Pentagon did reflect on the need for stronger US-China military ties towards the end of its annual report, discussing the US strategy for engagement and cooperation with China in the future. Contacts between the two militaries were frozen in 2010 by Beijing, in protest over US arms sales to Taiwan.
"Chinese and American military officers have different understandings of the meaning of common terms and actions, and greater exchanges may help keep these from becoming the basis for wrong conclusions and decisions in a time of crisis," Dr. Paal said.
Report & Analysis: China's military 'catching up' with US [China Daily, 26 Aug 2011]