While the executive summary includes the usual warnings about China’s pursuit of new military capabilities, it also pointedly notes that “[E]arlier this decade, China began a new phase of military development by articulating roles and missions for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that go beyond China’s immediate territorial interests.
“Some of these missions and associated capabilities have allowed the PLA to contribute to international peacekeeping efforts, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and counter‐piracy operations. The United States recognizes and welcomes these contributions,” the report notes.
Even after listing the usual warnings about improved capabilities in anti‐access, area‐denial strategies, and extended‐range power projection, the report says, “China’s ability to sustain military power at a distance, today, remains limited.”
The document had been due to be read at congress on March 1 but was held up by the Barack Obama administration due to an internal dispute over whether the report’s listing of China’s military establishment, which is carried out annually, would anger Beijing.
This year the report addresses for the first time the on‐again, off‐again military exchanges between China and the Pentagon. China’s military twice since October 2008 has cut off exchanges to protest US arms sales to Taiwan. The new section lists scores of past military exchanges between the Pentagon and China’s military and a long list of exchanges planned for 2010 that were put on hold by the Chinese suspension of the exchange program.
As one might expect, the report confirmed what is obvious to all analysts; China is developing into an economic superpower, and that growth is allowing the Chinese government to invest more in its military. Thus China is continuing a massive effort to modernize its military and transform its structure, doctrine and strategy. In fact, much the same thing was said in June when the US Army’s Strategic Studies Institute published a study “The PLA at Home and Abroad: Assessing the Operational Capabilities of China’s Military.” That report was issued on July 6, a day after China’s economy was recognized as the world’s second biggest, eclipsing Japan’s in size during the second quarter of this year.
The report noted that China is changing the way it thinks about its military. In the past, its forces concentrated on guarding China’s sovereignty, which implied that China’s fighting men would not stray far from the country’s borders. Now that thinking has evolved to a strategy designed to protect China’s interests, including economic ones, that span the globe.
One might say the report was rather conciliatory in tone. That would explain why US House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton released a statement which concluded: