A response posted on the defense ministry and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) websites said the report was flawed, “ill-intentioned,” a “vainglorious noise,” filled with “cliches” about a Chinese military threat, and a reflection of a “Cold War” mentality.
If the Pentagon valued the fragile mutual trust that has been established in military-to-military relations, it said, it would cancel the reports.
The foreign ministry also slammed the report. Spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement it was compiled with ulterior motives and misrepresented a military buildup which he said “is completely aimed at safeguarding the country’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The report released Thursday tracked all aspects of China’s military modernization, including the expansion of PLA Navy capabilities in pursuit of a “growing ability to project power at increasingly longer ranges.”
It said China’s military program has “become increasingly focused on military investments for a range of missions beyond China’s coast.”
Long-distance PLA Navy deployments have become routine, with naval task groups going beyond the “first island chain” nine times in 2013, including a first-ever mission to Latin America. The first island chain roughly encompasses the East and South China Seas.
(A Chinese naval group is currently plying the west coast of Africa, making port calls in eight countries including Nigeria, Angola and South Africa.)
“The PLA Navy has the largest force of major combatants, submarines, and amphibious warfare ships in Asia,” the report stated. “China’s naval forces include some 77 principal surface combatants, more than 60 submarines, 55 medium and large amphibious ships, and roughly 85 missile-equipped small combatants.”
The annual report, which includes classified and unclassified versions, has been required by defense authorization legislation since 2000. It examines China’s military and security developments, organization, strategy as well as bilateral engagement and cooperation in security matters.
“Despite China’s desire to project the image of a benign developing country, its efforts to defend ‘national sovereignty and territorial integrity,’ underpinned by growing economic strength and military capabilities, have been manifest in more forceful rhetoric and confrontational behavior in recent years,” the new one said.
An area which the Pentagon has long said lacks transparency is China’s military spending, now second only to the United States. Last March Beijing announced a 12.2 percent increase in military spending, to $132 billion.
The DoD believes China’s actual military spending is considerably higher than the amount it declares, estimating in 2013 that actual spending exceeded $145 billion, well above the $114 billion it declared. A year earlier, Beijing announced a budget of $106.7 billion but the Pentagon estimated real expenditure in 2012 exceeded $135 billion.
The latest report’s release comes at a time when bilateral military relations have been soured by mutual accusations of cyber espionage and differences over territorial disputes between China and neighbors in the South and East China Seas.
China condemned U.S. indictments last month against five military officers accused of stealing information from American companies by hacking into their computer systems, saying that China was itself a victim of cyber-espionage, primarily originating from the U.S.
In its report, the Pentagon said China was using its cyber capabilities “to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs.”
“The information targeted could potentially be used to benefit China’s defense industry, high-technology industries, policymakers’ interest in U.S. leadership thinking on key China issues, and military planners’ understanding of U.S. defense networks, logistics, and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis,” it said.
The Chinese response on the defense ministry site was scathing of the cyber allegations.
“Even more ridiculously, the annual report renewed warnings about China’s ‘offensive cyber capabilities,’” it said. “Hasn’t the U.S. been exposed as the global surveillance cyber-bully?”
Other significant points in the DoD report included:
--China possesses more than 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles and is deploying new medium-range ballistic missiles “to improve its ability to strike not only Taiwan but other regional targets.”
--The PLA has the capability to attack large ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific with anti-ship ballistic missiles.
--China has entered into service CSS-10 Mod 2 intercontinental ballistic missiles that “can reach most locations within the continental United States.”
--The PLA Air Force is the largest in Asia and the third-largest in the world, with some 330,000 personnel and more than 2,800 total aircraft, including 1,900 combat planes. It also possesses one of the world’s largest advanced surface-to-air missile systems.
--China’s space program includes development of capabilities to limit or prevent the use of space-based assets by adversaries during times of crisis or conflict.