Did you miss it? Im a little out of the loop on the far side of the Pacific, so I did. But yesterday was the annual CHINA IS COMING TO GET US!! day. Im always stumped on an appropriate gift for the special occasion... Flowers? A card? The most expensive weapons system ever?Thats right folks, it's time for the Pentagon's yearly report on Chinas military power. Get ready for the big headlines and what are sure to be some choice quotes from the SecDef and your talking-head of choice.In the coming weeks and months, the usual China-hawks are sure to mine the report for every quote that might make China look like the next evil empire. From the opposite extreme, habitual critics of the Pentagon will likely dig up the same excerpts to paint a department full of Sino-phobes. This AFP piece makes a good start at finding the choicest of these quotes, although with the good form (or indecision) of allowing you, the reader, to decide whether youre anti-Pentagon or anti-China. But the full study itself is actually much more balanced than these quotes would imply.
The report accurately recounts the undeniable fact that Chinas military is going through tremendous amounts of modernization and improvement. It will undoubtedly become a global force that solidifies the greater influence that China has in world affairs. The study also notes, however, that politically and strategically, China has not been making moves that indicate a nation looking to throw its weight around militarily: showing continually increasing interest in effective international organizations; contributing to UN peacekeeping missions in Africa and the Caribbean; making efforts to resolve border tensions with India and be a moderating force in Indo-Pakistani tensions; playing a pivotal role in seeking a diplomatic solution to the North Korea nuclear issue. All seem to illustrate a China interested in becoming a responsible international stakeholder by taking on a greater share of responsibility for the health and success of the global system.Taiwan is, of course, the fundamental exception to China not throwing its weight around. The report discusses in detail Chinas continuing efforts to gain the upper-hand in a potential military conflict in the Taiwan Strait, with a particular emphasis on deterring or counteracting foreign intervention (including Chinas likely long-term goal of acquiring or developing a carrier-force in support of broader efforts towards sea-denial). There is little room for doubt or question as to how seriously China considers the Taiwan issue it is the exception to Chinas otherwise very pragmatic foreign and security policy. Even here, though, the DOD study points out that in recent years and in the likely future, China has been interested in pursuing all means that may resolve the Taiwan issue: political, economic, cultural, legal, diplomatic, and military. For example, it draws particular attention to Beijings posture of restraint following President Chen [Shui-bian]s decision to suspend the National Unification Council and National Unification Guidelines.The best doomsday scenario, of course, is of a China-US confrontation Taiwan is just a possible flashpoint. In this vein, much can be made of the reports repeated mention of Chinas efforts to observe US military forces in action and apply lessons learned. (A recent RAND report made the same observations.) The big thing to notice, though, is that almost every example of this watchfulness has as much to do with China wanting to emulate US military tactics and equipment, as wanting to counter them. A particularly ironic example of these lessons learned can be found in the Pentagons analysis of why China will be deterred from military action against Taiwan in any but the most extreme situations: high monetary costs of war at home, an expensive reconstruction program in Taiwan, political condemnation and repercussions within the international community and the possibility that an insurgency against the occupation could tie up substantial forces for years.Hmm Its been a long time since I took a psychology classes, but thats called projecting, right?The report isnt without a few oddities, though. My particular favorite is when it notes a resurgence in the study of ancient Chinese statecraft within the PLA, apparently catching the crucial development of a new edition of Sun Zis Art of War on the PLA's reading list.The bottom line of the report is that Chinas military modernization has more do with seeking the trappings of a world-class power than pursuing a particular, military-minded agenda. Ultimately, the primary motivation for these rapid expenditures can be found in the fact that the PLA is transforming from a mass infantry army designed to fight a protracted war of attrition within its territory to a modern, professional force.The Pentagon actually mentions little, if anything, thats new from last years report. Nonetheless, if the last few years are any indication, were now in for a few months of reciprocal criticisms and no, youre the long-term threat to international peace and security. There had been reasons for hope of improved military relations between China and the US, with recent China visits from National Defense University and the Combat Commander for the Pacific that culminated in an invitation to China to view US exercises near Guam. Now, well have to see what, if anything, comes of these overtures.If, rather than requiring annual reports on Chinas military, Congress had required reports whenever there were significant developments or changes, it seems unlikely there would have been a report at all this year. This requirement has largely become today what the annual review of Chinas Most Favored Nation status was in the 90s: a yearly exercise in bilateral nipple-twisters that does little but restate trends that havent changed much from the last year and arent likely to change much in the next.-- Matthew Tompkins