The Pentagon's fifth
annual "Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of
was sent to Congress this week. Even more than its predecessors,
this year's report is unsettling, with myriad disturbing
revelations: the military balance across the Taiwan Strait has now
tipped in China's favor; China's military doctrine appears to view
Taiwan as a stepping stone to a broader and farther reaching
strategic presence in the Western Pacific; China's military has
made major advances in strategic weapons; the Chinese military is
in the midst of a debate on a new, more threatening nuclear
doctrine; and China is far from behaving as a responsible
stakeholder in the global community. As the new report confirms,
"hedging" has become the watchword in China relations in
Washington. It's about time.
Over the past year, China
has become one of the Pentagon's most pressing concerns, ranking
just below Iraq, terrorism, and Iran. In February, the Pentagon's
Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a strategic planning document
issued every four years, warned that "The pace and scope of China's
military build-up already puts regional military balances at
The QDR, for the first time, named China as a potential military
competitor. While the QDR allowed that "U.S. policy remains focused
on encouraging China to play a constructive, peaceful role in the
Asia-Paciﬁc region," the Pentagon also seeks to create
"prudent hedges against the possibility that cooperative approaches
by themselves may fail to preclude future conﬂict." In
March, President Bush's "National Security Strategy" also described
a public policy to "encourage China to make the right strategic
decisions for its people while we hedge against other
Tuesday's new Pentagon report asserts that "China's military
expansion is already such as to alter regional military balances."
The Pentagon now believes that "international reactions to China's
military growth will understandably provide resistance against" the
unknowns of China's nontransparent strategic goals. While the
Administration still seeks "cooperation" with China, "hedging"
China is now the other side of the policy coin.
China's sudden military
rise is not a figment of the White House's imagination. Last fall,
Dr. Kurt Campbell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian
and Pacific Affairs during the Clinton Administration, professed
his astonishment at China's incredibly rapid military
modernization. "You look back on those [intelligence] studies, and
it's only been a decade," he marveled. "China has exceeded - in
every area of military modernization - that which even the far-off
estimates of the mid-1990s predicted."
Indeed, in Tuesday's report, the Pentagon admits that "several
aspects of China's military development have surprised U.S.
analysts, including the pace and scope of its strategic forces
China's rapid strategic
forces modernization is the biggest threat. The People's Liberation
Army's (PLA) intense focus on "power-projection" and "area denial"
capabilities is well into its tenth year. China's military now
boasts four new ICBMs poised for imminent deployment. The
Dongfeng-31 ICBM will be ready this year, and its advanced sibling,
the DF-31A, will be on the launch pad next year. The Julang-1 and 2
submarine-launched ICBMs should be ready for the new "JIN" (type
094) class nuclear submarine by 2010. All are capable of striking
targets in the continental United States. These missile advances
come at the same time as an unprecedented Chinese naval procurement
program, which has at least five new classes of submarine under
The Pentagon's concerns
are sharpened by indications that the PLA is debating "the value of
China's 'no first use' nuclear policy." Last July, a delegation of
foreign media editors based in Hong Kong visited Beijing, where
they were treated to a disquisition on nuclear war theory by PLA
general Zhu Chenghu. Page 28 of the Pentagon report cites General
Zhu's words: "[I]f the Americans draw their missiles and position
guided ammunition [sic] onto the target zone on China's territory,
I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons." The report
also quotes another Chinese strategist, Chu Shulong, as cautioning
that "China may renounce this commitment [to no first
use] at a time when the country's fate hangs in the balance."
Another Chinese scholar of nuclear doctrine, Shen Dingli, opined
that "If China's conventional forces are devastated . . . it is
inconceivable that China would allow its nuclear weapons to be
destroyed by a precision attack with conventional munitions, rather
than use them as a true means of deterrence." Such statements
(along with similar views expressed by other PLA officers directly
to visiting U.S. military officers) lead the Pentagon to consider
how it might influence the "terms of this debate or affect
Beijing's thinking about its nuclear options in the
Among the other key
developments enumerated in the report's first chapter is the
judgment that "China's expansion of missile and other military
forces opposite Taiwan has continued unabated with the balance of
forces shifting in the mainland's favor." In other words, the
balance has already shifted, just as promised in earlier
assessments, which calculated that 2005 would be the tipping point
for Taiwan - especially if its own military stagnated. The new
report estimates that China has 710 to 790 short range ballistic
missiles trained on Taiwan "as of late 2005." In fact,
administration sources confirm privately that the Pentagon puts the
number at 810 SRBMs, as of April 2006.
All this presents a major
challenge to the Defense Department, which is congressionally
mandated by the Taiwan Relations Act to "to maintain the capacity
of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms
of coercion" against Taiwan
- a mandate the report explicitly cites. The report asserts that
China should be deterred from aggression against Taiwan by "the
virtual certainty of U.S. intervention, and Japanese interests" and
should view "the United States, especially in combination with
Japan," as having the upper hand in "many scenarios involving the
use of force"-for now, at least.
But Taiwan is just one of
the Pentagon's concerns. The report also cites instances of
provocative moves by the Chinese military against Japan, including
the incursion of a Chinese nuclear submarine into Japanese
territorial waters near Okinawa and a well-publicized incident in
September 2005 in which "PLA Navy vessels trained their weapons on
Japanese aircraft monitoring Chinese drilling" in Japanese-claimed
waters in the East China Sea. The report leaves unmentioned other
similar incidents. These incidents lead many in the Bush
Administration to wonder if the Chinese navy is intentionally
irritating the Japanese to see if the United States will support
its main strategic ally in East Asia.
Aside from episodes of
Chinese aggressiveness towards Taiwan and Japan, the Pentagon
report notes several instances of pointedly unhelpful behavior from
China. China has a "unique potential" to pressure North Korea on
its nuclear ambitions but doesn't; it did, however, pressure its
Central Asian allies to "call for a date for the withdrawal of U.S.
forces prosecuting the War on Terrorism in Central Asia." It
promoted Asian "regional institutions that would exclude the United
States" such as the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN+3 dialogue.
China has dubious "political links with states such as Iran, Sudan,
Burma, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Venezuela." Further, "Chinese companies
continue to play a negative role" in nuclear and missile
proliferation. And perhaps most recklessly, China continues "to
supply countries like Iran with critical military
As it did last year, the
Pentagon report notes that "Beijing is also surveying the strategic
landscape beyond Taiwan." This year, the report cites Chinese
General Liu Yazhou's matter-of-fact observation that "when a nation
grows strong enough, it practices hegemony." General Liu was
talking about China, not the United States. General Liu, son-in-law
of late Chinese president Li Xiannian, speaks like a true Chinese
"Geography is destiny . . . when a country begins to rise, it
should first set itself in an invincible position."
What the Pentagon report doesn't cite are General Liu's assertions
from last year that China's improved relations with Muslim
countries were "an excellent move" because China "should do what
the West fears."
With the word "hedging"
featuring conspicuously in February's QDR, March's White House
National Security Strategy, and now the Pentagon's China Report, it
is clear that "hedging" is now the watchword of U.S. China policy.
A "hedging" strategy with China is exactly what is needed in
Washington now. For the sake of U.S. national security, that word,
and the ideas and observations it embodies, must develop into a
coherent policy set.
Tkacik, Jr., is Senior Research Fellow in China Policy in the
Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.