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China Report Notes Military Modernization

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2011 – China’s military is modernizing, but the Chinese government needs to be more forthcoming on why it needs these new capabilities, according to a Defense Department report delivered to Congress today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, calls on a reporter during an Aug. 24, 2011, Pentagon news conference. Schiffer briefed reporters on a new Defense Department report to Congress on military and security developments in China. DOD photo by R.D. Ward

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, briefed Pentagon reporters on the report.

“The United States welcomes a strong, prosperous and successful China that contributes to international rules and norms and enhances security and peace both in the Asia-Pacific region and around the globe,” Schiffer said.

The United States is working to engage China in economic, peacekeeping and humanitarian areas, among others, Schiffer said. A good military-to-military relationship is one part of that engagement, he added, noting that China is working with the international community, for example, to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden. The Chinese military also has contributed to earthquake relief in Pakistan and played a role in delivering humanitarian aid to Haiti, he said.

“However,” he added, “the pace and scope of China's sustained military investment have allowed China to pursue capabilities that we believe are potentially destabilizing to regional military balances, increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation, and may contribute to regional tensions and anxieties.”

The capabilities could pose a temptation for the Chinese government to use military force “to gain diplomatic advantage, advance its interests, or resolve … disputes in its favor,” Schiffer said. This danger, he told reporters, re-emphasizes the need for a sustained and reliable military-to-military dialogue between the United States and China.

China’s army is on track to realize its goal of building a modern, regionally focused military by 2020, the report says. But China’s ability to sustain military power at a distance today remains limited.

This may change shortly, Schiffer said. This month, China has conducted sea trials of a Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier it purchased from Ukraine and refurbished.

“The aircraft carrier could become operationally available to China’s navy by the end of 2012, we assess, but without aircraft,” Schiffer said. “It will take a number of additional years for an air group to achieve the sort of minimal level of combat capability aboard the carrier that will be necessary for them to start to operate from the carrier itself.”

The Chinese continue to invest in submarines, and China’s navy is investing in new surface combatants designed for anti-surface and anti-air warfare, Schiffer said, and construction of a major naval base on Hainan Island is complete. “And this base, we assess, is large enough to accommodate a mix of ballistic missiles, submarines and large surface combatants, including aircraft carriers,” he added.

China is also investing in aircraft and missiles. In January, the Chinese air force flight-tested its next-generation fighter prototype. The aircraft includes stealth attributes, advanced avionics and supercruise-capable engines, Schiffer said.

Space also is a focus of China’s military modernization, with a record 15 launches in 2010.

While relations with Taiwan and China have improved markedly in most areas, Schiffer said, the Chinese military still focuses on a cross-strait contingency. China also seems to be stressing maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea – an area where roughly 50 percent of the world’s trade travels.

The Chinese military also has demonstrated in recent years the capability to conduct limited peacetime deployments of modern forces outside Asia.

“This includes multiple counterpiracy deployments to the Gulf of Aden and increasing participation in international humanitarian and disaster … relief efforts,” Schiffer said. “Investments in large amphibious ships, a new hospital ship, long-range transport aircraft and improved logistics have made these sorts of missions a practical reality.” These peacetime operations provide China’s military with a valuable operational experience and also serve the government’s diplomatic objectives, he added.

The modernization shows no sign of slowing, the report says, as the Chinese military received a 12.7 percent budget increase this year. The report acknowledges the difficulty in figuring how much China spends on its military, but estimates it at around $165 billion. “That continues more than two decades of sustained budgetary growth,” Schiffer told reporters.

The Chinese have made some incremental improvements in transparency in recent years, he said, but a number of uncertainties remain.

“We will continue, and we do continue, to encourage China to improve transparency and openness, to act in ways that support and strengthen common political, economic and diplomatic interests of the region and of the international community,” Schiffer said.

In the past, the Chinese have objected to the release of the report. Schiffer said he hopes the Chinese government and military will look at it differently this year.

“The report can best be read not simply as a piece of analysis, but really as the sets of questions and issues that we would like to be able to engage in dialogue and discussion with our Chinese counterparts about,” he said. “These are the questions and the issues that we think that it's important for us to be able to understand.

“We know our Chinese friends have questions for and about us,” he continued, “and that's the sort of dialogue and discussion that we welcome and that we think contributes to regional and global security and stability.”


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Michael Schiffer

Related Sites:
Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China


Article is closed to new comments.

The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

8/26/2011 9:37:18 PM
My thanks to Doctor Shiffer for this reaffimation of the threat that Communist China poses to the peace and security of the Far East and the United States. I hope this report will slow the headlong rush to embrace sworn enemies of democracy.
- Michael R. Betzer, Lancaster, California

8/26/2011 7:57:15 PM
Ruler of panda wants to be the emperor of the world. Only tip on your lips is no use. Do you know why a great number of soldiers of US were killed by Taliban militants through roadsides' bombing in Afghanistan, and how difficult to eradicate these rogue. Smart people all acknowledge the reason that autocrats of panda offered food, arms and other supplies to Taliban. When USA army wanted to launch attacks against them by airstrikes, these militants would hide in northeastern mountainuous areas where US aircraft dare not strike because its regions borded with panda. As USA occuping Iraq to try to set up a democracy government, ongoing suicide bombing continues to kill US soldiers, ostensilbly, it is seeded by Iran and Syria regime. But, you know, why Iranian and Syrian could support these regional insurgents to attack USA, the answer is that authoritarian of panda is hidding behind.
- erevolu, pacific

8/26/2011 6:17:36 PM
China has gone on record a number of times in relation to its 2 Island chain strategy. That is, the first island chain they have complete control over (including sea lanes used by a significant amount of the worlds shipping) and including sovereign territory of smaller countries. 'Control' can mean different things, but I believe it is being considered by China to be an EEZ. China's miniscule (by Western standards), but real, power projection capabilities are largely to bully Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan over territorial issues. Look at China's ridiculous claims to territory within sight of the Malaysian coast; what it can't argue with reason, China will argue with a carrier group.
- Too Low for Zero, Australia

8/25/2011 4:51:04 PM
Michael Schiffer doesn't seem to know anything about China, especially its history. In 1870 Chinese cargo ships were attacked by European warships. Later various nations attacked China and occupied it. Not until the 1950s could China become independent again. Now it is the richest country without major debts (in comparison to Europe/US), without intention to wage war, like the war inciting USA. The US attacked Iraq and Afghanistan, giving money to Pakistan and Kabul which ends up in Taliban hands enabling them to attack American troops there. Typical US strategy, similar in Korea/Vietnam (by the military/industrial complex), now the country is broke. Better bring all soldiers home and close the Pentagon!
- Ted Dancer, New Haven, CT

8/25/2011 1:46:21 PM
Mr. Michael Schiffer seems to be afraid of losing his job, the Pentagon budget is getting cut, the military/industrial complex's long run is over - the US is broke. China has a defense budget of less than $100-billion, the US spends close to $1-trillion on defense, obscene, considering that one third of Americans live at or below the poverty line. China has 1.3 billion people to defend, the US only 300 million. Michael Schiffer's tirade was misplaced taking into account that China is the richest country with only one half of an aircraft carrier and a need to modernize the weapons they have. It behoofs the Pentagon to bring home all the troops, cut the budget, and put the soldiers to work repairing our highways and bridges, instead of having them sit around with nothing to do.
- Igor Davidof, Washington, DC

8/25/2011 5:45:47 AM
Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Schiffer needs to study Chinese history and needs to be up-to-date on China today. China spends less than $100-billion on defense, the US spends almost ten times that amount. China has to protect 1.3-billion people, the US 300 million. China has not been involved in a war for very many years, the US is constantly fighting wars. 1870 China was attacked by western war ships, China had no war-ships. The west occupied China, which eventually freed itself. Today China is a country involved in world wide trade, the US has soldiers spread all over the world - and no comparable international trade. China is rich, the US up to its eyebrows in debt.
- Erik Wassenich, Allentown, PA

8/25/2011 4:39:16 AM
The New York Times of August 25, 2011, reports that Michael Schiffer warned about China increasing its military build-up, the dangers connected with that. The deputy assistant secretary must keep in mind that China spends less than $100-billion on defense, that it has a population of 1.3 billion. The US has a defense budget of close to $1-trillion with a population of 300 million. China has less than one aircraft carrier, the US has a dozen or more. Michael Schiffer is doing the US no favor by critisizing China about its military. Michael Schiffer may be talking as the representative of the US military/industrial complex that has bankrupted the US and still wants more military spending.
- Erik Wassenich, Allentown, PA

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