The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military for 2012 was cut to half the size of earlier reports and key weapons developments were omitted in an apparent bid to mitigate Beijing’s objections to the annual assessment of the communist government’s alarming military buildup.
Instead of declassifying secrets of the Chinese military—which include an array of high-technology weapons and other advanced military capabilities—the report spends an entire chapter on military exchanges, which Beijing has repeatedly cut off in recent years to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
The report also left out last year’s reference to China’s development of a new, road-mobile long-range missile that is likely to be equipped with multiple nuclear warheads. Earlier references to secret underground nuclear facilities contained in some 3,000 miles of tunnels also were left out of the latest report.
The report said China’s military continued decades-long investments in advanced cruise and ballistic missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles, counter-space weapons, and military cyberspace capabilities.
The Chinese military, according to the report, is focused on a war over Taiwan and stopping U.S. intervention on behalf of its island ally.
One key development was the flight testing of a new J-20 stealth fighter last year, the launch of China’s first aircraft carrier, deployment of new integrated air defenses, submarine warfare developments, and nuclear and strike capabilities.
However, the report plays down the potential impact of the Chinese military in Asia by highlighting the possible role for the new aircraft carrier in conducting humanitarian operations, instead of being used for military coercion in the disputed South China Sea and in other parts of Asia.
China routinely protests publication of the report for what it says are “groundless” accusations that promote what Beijing calls the “China threat theory,” according to State Department cables made public by Wikileaks.
China’s military also has launched a covert influence operation involving former Chinese and U.S. military leaders who have lobbied Congress and the Pentagon to do away with the annual report. Congress obliged two years ago by changing a portion of the report’s title from “military power” to “military and security developments,” apparently in response to Chinese protests.
China’s military evacuation of Chinese nationals from Libya last year also was highlighted as a positive development. But the report makes no mention of the discovery of Libyan government documents last year that revealed Chinese arms makers were preparing to ship arms to bolster the dying regime of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
The report identifies a key objective of the Chinese military doctrine as “preserving Communist Party rule” along with economic development and defending national sovereignty.
The report said China’s military is expanding space activities but downplays China’s secret space arms programs. Key anti-space weapons include “a multidimensional program to limit or deny the use of space-based assets by adversaries during times of crisis or conflict,” the report says.
“In addition to the direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon tested in 2007, these counter-space capabilities also include jamming, laser, microwave, and cyber weapons,” the report said, noting that “proximity” maneuvers by satellites in space are a prerequisite for space warfare attacks.
In the cyber warfare and cyber espionage arena, China-based hackers continued to conduct attacks around the world against computer networks and systems, the report said.
“Intrusions in 2011 occurred in key sectors, including companies that directly support U.S. defense programs,” the report said, without mentioning the Chinese military’s role in cyber attacks.
The report also said China continues aggressive theft and legal acquisition of dual-use civilian-military technology and goods mainly from the United States.
“China has a long history of cooperation between its civilian and military sectors and openly espouses the need to exploit civilian technologies for use in its military modernization,” the report said.
That finding would seem to undermine the Obama administration’s push to loosen controls on exports of dual use products.
In a new section of the report, the Pentagon said military exchanges with China are a “key component” of the U.S. approach to the Asia Pacific region.
It quotes Vice President Joe Biden as saying U.S.-China cooperation will help meet “global challenges together.”
However, China has failed to cooperate with the United States on such issues as Syria, Iran, and North Korea.
The report makes no mention of the six Chinese-made long-range missile launchers revealed in a North Korean military parade in Pyongyang April 15.
A Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.
David Helvey, acting assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said the report was “streamlined and consolidated” as part of Pentagon guidance on reports for Congress. “However, we continue to address the same range of questions and issues that’s requested by the Congress in the legislation,” he said.
Richard Fisher, a China military affairs specialist with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the Pentagon report is a “lesser document” than its 2011 counterpart.
“A shorter report does not mean the Chinese military threat to U.S. interests has seen any reduction,” Fisher said.
“Democracies require facts and debate in order to yield decisions that ensure survival. When a government reduces or limits the facts, then democracies are less able to produce optimal decisions, and tragedy becomes a greater danger.”
Fisher said more facts about the Chinese military buildup are needed to help inform Congress in its debate over how to deal with new threats.
“If the Administration believes that it can improve China’s attitude by containing or reducing the effectiveness of this report, it is sadly mistaken,” he said. “The only lesson China will learn is that if it complains loud enough, it can bully even American officials into constraining their own political process necessary for their defense.”
Fisher criticized the report for failing to mention the planned arms shipment to Qaddafi. “China’s near villainy was exposed in captured Libyan government documents; so why does it not rate mention by the Department of Defense?”
On the Chinese long-range missile launcher driven through Pyongyang in April, Fisher said, “This amazing direct Chinese assistance to help North Korea launch nuclear warheads against the United States receives no mention in this year’s PLA report.”
Missile charts in the paper also show the exact same numbers for Chinese strategic and tactical missiles and launchers as last year, something almost sure to be inaccurate, Fisher said.
One fact omitted in this year’s report was the mention last year of “a new road-mobile ICBM, possibly capable of carrying a multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV).”
“There is no mention of this missile in the 2012 report, even though the Chinese have allowed Internet images of this missile to be published since 2007,” he said.
Helvey, the Pentagon official, told reporters that China is continuing work on the aircraft carrier-killing anti-ship ballistic missile, that a U.S. admiral said recently had reached the equivalent of being in early deployment.
“We highlight continued development of the anti-ship ballistic missile or the DF-21D,” Helvey said. “It's got a limited operational capability, and I think that's reflected in the report. They continue to work on that and develop that and deploy that.”
Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, said the report appears to be part of an effort by the Obama administration to redefine the threat from China.
“One way for President Obama to conceal the utter inadequacy of his so-called pivot to Asia—an underfunded reallocation of resources meant to obscure his hollowing out of the U.S. military and the vacuums of power he is creating by withdrawing forces from the Middle East—is to dumb-down the threat,” Gaffney said.
“Ignoring the reality of communist China's buildup and misleading the American people about it will only make the threat more dangerous, not less so,” he said.