China is boosting its investments in missiles, drones and cyber warfare as part of a plan to deter the U.S. and other countries from intervening in the region, according to a new report from the Defense Department.
China's official military budget, announced in March, is expected to rise 11 percent this year to $114 billion, reflecting more than two decades of increases, according to the department. The country's actual defense expenditures are even higher, estimated at $135 billion to $215 billion in 2012, according to the Pentagon.
"China's military build-up shows no signs of slowing," David Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said during a press conference May 6 at the Pentagon after releasing the annual report.
China's defense budget dwarfs those of other countries in the region, according to the analysis. Russia, for example, spent $61.3 billion on its military last year; Japan, $58 billion; India, $45.5 billion; South Korea, $29.2 billion; and Taiwan, 10.8 billion, it states.
While China is upgrading its armed forces mainly to win a potential regional conflict, it's increasingly focused on protecting territorial claims and building influence abroad, according to the report. The government has argued over territory with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea and with Japan in the East China Sea, and it maintains strategic ties to countries such as North Korea and Pakistan.
The People's Liberation Army in 2012 commissioned its first aircraft carrier called the Liaoning using a renovated Russian-made Kuznetsov-class hull, deployed for the first time a medium-range ballistic missile known as DF-21D designed to attack large ships, conducted a test flight of the J-31 stealth fighter jet, launched more than a dozen satellites into space, targeted information from U.S. computer systems and marketed drones for international sale, according to the report.
The navy already operates three JIN-class nuclear-powered submarines, and five more may enter service over the next decade, according to the document. The subs will eventually carry the JL-2 ballistic missile, with an estimated range of more than 4,000 nautical miles, giving the service "its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent," it states.
Many of China's defense investments are designed to deter U.S. and foreign military intervention in the region, according to the report. The U.S. calls these types of missions "anti-access/area-denial," or A2/AD, while the PLA refers to them as "counter-intervention operations," it states.
Helvey welcomed apparent attempts by China to reveal more information about its military. In a semi-annual white paper published last month, China for the first time included a headcount of People’s Liberation Army by service: There are 850,000 troops in the army, 235,000 in the navy and 398,000 in the air force, for a total of 1.48 million.
Still, Helvey said many uncertainties remain about China's armed forces. "This report provides a lot of information," he said of the U.S. assessment. "But it also poses a lot of questions -- questions for which we don't have answers."
The document concludes that China's lack of transparency about its increasing military power is heightening tensions in the region. "Absent a move towards greater transparency, these concerns will likely intensify," it states.