China’s secretive transformation of its military power leaves the United States preparing for the worst eventualities, including over Taiwan, a Pentagon official said Wednesday. About 900 Chinese missiles are in place opposite Taiwan, while China is also rolling out far more sophisticated long-range nuclear missiles, combat planes, warships and submarines, the Department of Defense official said.
Richard Lawless, the Pentagon’s deputy undersecretary for Asia-Pacific affairs, said the US government urgently wanted to launch a strategic dialogue to discuss China’s military intentions, especially over nuclear arms.
“I think if we had a true dialogue of depth… we might be able to constrain and put some of those issues of (Chinese) intent to bed,” he told a hearing of the House of Representatives armed services committee.
“Not being able to, we must plan and prepare for the worst,” he said. “It is an area of intense concern and we’re giving it due attention from the highest levels of the Department of Defense and the inter-agency discussion.”
The United States and China have long been at loggerheads over Beijing’s military build-up, although US Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed optimism about future relations at a Singapore security conference this month.
Gates called for a more detailed military dialogue with China to avoid future miscalculations, while a top Chinese general said Beijing was prepared to open a “hotline” with Washington.
Lawless alleged “a deliberate effort on the part of China’s leaders to mask the nature of Chinese military capabilities,” which he said could only ring precautionary alarm bells for the US and other governments.
China’s successful test of an anti-satellite weapon in January could “disrupt, delay and frustrate our ability to operate” in space, he also said.
And its growing sophistication in “cyber-warfare” has given China the capacity “to attack and degrade our computer systems,” he cautioned.
Lawless was briefing US lawmakers on an annual Pentagon report issued last month that questioned China’s lack of transparency in its defense budgeting and suggested that it could be “planning for pre-emptive military options in advance of regional crises.”
Although Beijing announced an official defense budget figure of 45 billion dollars for 2007, the US Defense Intelligence Agency estimates China’s total military-related spending for this year could be up to 125 billion dollars.
The lack of transparency in China’s military activities “will naturally and understandably prompt international responses that hedge against the unknown,” the report said.
The expensive upgrading of Chinese offensive systems “is tilting the military balance in the mainland’s favor” against Taiwan, but also risks upsetting the regional balance of power in Asia and beyond, Lawless said.