08/26/2011, 00.00
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US report says Chinese military could destabilise Asia-Pacific by 2020

In its annual report, the US Defence Department says Beijing is modernising its military forces, in particular anti-satellite missiles, building an aircraft carrier, and boosting its cyberwarfare capabilities. This could change the balance of power in the region. Its J-20 stealth fighter aircraft programme is expected to be operational by 2018. Beijing is none too pleased about the report.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s People’s Liberation Army appears on track to modernise by 2020, a rapid build-up that could potentially destabilise the Asia-Pacific region, a United States Department of Defence report said on Wednesday. In an angry reply, China called the US claim “unfounded suspicion and exaggeration”.

The US Defence report noted that Chinese military growth in the past decade exceeded most US forecasts, especially in strategic areas like aircraft carrier programme, cyber warfare capabilities and anti-satellite missiles.

Some China watchers, including members of the US Congress, note with apprehension that China’s rising defence spending comes at a time when Washington plans defence cuts.

The Pentagon report noted that China’s J-20 stealth fighter aircraft programme would not achieve “effective operational capability” prior to 2018.

China is also building its first domestic air carrier, which would not be operational before at least 2015, if construction began this year.

China’s defence budget this year is 601.1 billion yuan (US$ 91.5 billion), an increase of 12.7 per cent from a year before. However, many experts believe that it is much higher. With an army of 1.25 million men, the report suggests that China’s actual defence spending might top US$ 160 billion.

Beijing’s reaction was swift. A spokesman for China's embassy in Washington said the report was “a reflection of Cold War mentality”.

“It’s normal for China to develop its army and update its weaponry,” a defence Ministry spokesman said.

“We hope the US will take practical steps to work with China for stable and healthy military ties by following the spirit of mutual respect, mutual trust, reciprocity and mutual benefit,” Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong said.

Yet, “The pace and scope of China's sustained military investments have allowed China to pursue capabilities that we believe are potentially-destabilising to regional military balances,” said Michael Schiffer, a deputy assistant secretary of defence.

In fact, China appears to be aiming at becoming a naval power. It has also not given up its claims to Taiwan, which it considers a rebel province.

At least, 1,200 short-range missiles are aimed at the island. In 2010, Beijing suspended all military cooperation with the United States to protest US weapons sale to Taiwan.

Taipei has asked the United States for 66 F-16C/D fighter jets, a request Washington has not yet considered to avoid worsening relations with Beijing.

In addition, China claims sovereignty over a number of archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean, and this year has used violence against fishing boats from Vietnam and the Philippines to keep them away from the islands.

For the Pentagon, despite its progress at becoming a more powerful regional military power, Beijing is not expected to be able to project and sustain large forces in high-intensity combat operations far from China before 2020.

Yet, cyberattacks last year against the US government were apparently traced back to China.
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