WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China’s failure to be transparent about its rapidly growing military capabilities has created uncertainty and risks of miscalculation, the Pentagon said in an annual report released on Wednesday.
The report, the first under the Obama administration, came weeks after Chinese boats jostled with a U.S. Navy surveillance ship in the South China Sea in a confrontation that heightened tensions over Chinese military activities near its coasts.
“Much uncertainty surrounds China’s future course, particularly regarding how its expanding military power might be used,” according to the report on Chinese military power, which was submitted to the U.S. Congress.
China was making advances in denying outsiders access to offshore areas and was improving its nuclear, space, and cyber warfare while making its military modestly more transparent, it said, noting potentially global implications to this trend.
China’s People’s Liberation Army has “left unclear to the international community the purposes and objectives of the PLA’s evolving doctrine and capabilities,” the report added.
Risks to the United States and its allies in the Pacific region arise from incomplete Chinese defense spending figures and actions that appear inconsistent with declared policies, said the report, the first under the Obama administration.
“The limited transparency in China’s military and security affairs poses risks to stability by creating uncertainty and increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation,” the report said.
The emerging Asian superpower could allay concerns and boost transparency through military-to-military discussions with the United States and by publishing better defense papers and other documents, a senior U.S. defense official said.
Beijing usually criticizes the Pentagon report, saying it unfairly portrays China as a military threat when it is committed to a “peaceful rise” as its economic power grows.
The report noted that the recent naval showdown between the two sides took place near Hainan island, where the construction of a navy base gives the Chinese navy access to international sea lanes and allows stealthy deployment of submarines into the South China Sea.
“The base appears large enough to accommodate a mix of attack and ballistic missile submarines and advanced surface combatant ships,” it said.
The Pentagon analysis said China is developing weapons that would disable its enemies’ space technology such as satellites, and boosting its electromagnetic warfare and cyber-warfare capabilities.
China continued to modernize its nuclear arsenal, improving its fleet of ballistic missile submarines to give itself greater strategic strike capability, said the report. China’s aircraft carrier research program supported its navy’s intention to build multiple carriers by 2020, it added.
The United States was increasingly concerned about “computer network intrusions that appear to originate in China,” said the defense official, who pointed to a focus on computer defense and computer attack in Chinese doctrine.
“Some of these intrusions for the acquisition of data would involve the same types of skills, applications and capabilities that would be consistent with a computer network attack,” the official said.
In the Taiwan Strait, the balance of forces continued to shift in China’s favor as it rapidly built up an arsenal of short-range missiles opposite Taiwan, the report said.
Asked if the Pentagon was concerned the analysis could derail bilateral military talks by angering China, press secretary Geoff Morrell said the “straightforward, fact-based report” had “nothing inflammatory or derogatory in it.”
The Pentagon hoped the report would help in “fostering greater cooperation, greater understanding, greater transparency between our two militaries,” he added.
Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by Paul Simao