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DoD Report: China’s Military Investments Continue

By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, May 13, 2016 — China’s investments in military and weaponry operations continue on a path to increase its power projection, anti-access and area denial and operations in cyberspace, space and electromagnetic emerging domains, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia told Pentagon reporters today.

Abraham M. Denmark described the Defense Department’s annual report on military and security developments involving China, released to Congress today.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Russell conducts a replenishment at sea with the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Charles Drew in the South China Sea, March 10, 2016. Navy photo by Chief Petty officer Ja'lon A. Rhinehart
The guided-missile destroyer USS Russell conducts a replenishment at sea with the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Charles Drew in the South China Sea, March 10, 2016. Navy photo by Chief Petty officer Ja'lon A. Rhinehart
The guided-missile destroyer USS Russell conducts a replenishment at sea with the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Charles Drew in the South China Sea, March 10, 2016. Navy photo by Chief Petty officer Ja'lon A. Rhinehart Replenishment
The guided-missile destroyer USS Russell conducts a replenishment at sea with the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Charles Drew in the South China Sea, March 10, 2016. Navy photo by Chief Petty officer Ja'lon A. Rhinehart

Highlighting China’s defense strategy and military developments, Denmark said the report provides factual, descriptive and analytical information to Capitol Hill. “It lets the facts speak for themselves,” he said.

“China continues to focus on preparing for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait,” Denmark added, “but additional missions such as contingencies in the East and South China seas and on the Korea Peninsula are increasingly important to the [People’s Liberation Army].”

China Sustains Military Growth

China’s leaders seem committed to sustaining defense spending growth for the foreseeable future, despite its economic growth deceleration, he said.

“From 2006 to 2015, China’s officially disclosed military budget grew at an average of 9.8 percent per year in inflation-adjusted terms,” Denmark said, noting that its published military budget left out numerous major spending categories, such as research and development and procuring foreign weapons and equipment.

“The true expenditure, DoD estimates, in terms of total military-related spending for 2015, exceeded $180 billion in 2015,” he added. Such investments are resulting in strides such as China’s recently unveiled DF-26 missile, a system capable of precision ground strikes in the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

Besides China’s ongoing, long-term military trends, its military modernization program entered a new phase in 2015 comprising three key security developments, Denmark said.

The first trend is China’s maritime activities, in which it used assertive tactics to reclaim existing outposts and began building military facilities on large swaths of land in the South China Sea in 2015, he said.

“China's leadership demonstrated a willingness to tolerate higher levels of tension in pursuit of its maritime sovereignty claims,” he said. “China's strategy is to secure its objectives without jeopardizing the regional peace that has enabled its military and economic development, which in tum has maintained the Chinese Communist Party's grip on power.”

The second trend is China's growing global military presence, he said.

“China's leaders are leveraging the country's power to expand its international influence -- and its military footprint overseas,” Denmark said. The biggest example of expanding ambitions, he emphasized, was China’s announcement in November that it would stand up a military facility in Djibouti. “This is a big step forward for the PLA, which has never had an overseas facility before,” he noted.

The third security trend is China’s large-scale reforms to make the its military more capable and politically loyal, Denmark said.

“President Xi Jinping unveiled sweeping plans that are intended to enhance the PLA's ability to conduct joint operations, by replacing the old military regions with new geographic commands,” he pointed out. The plans also seek to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party's control over the PLA by establishing new bodies to oversee the military, Denmark added.

U.S. Seeks Cooperation

The U.S. approach to China centers on reducing risk, expanding common ground and maintaining U.S. military superiority, he said.

The United States has made progress by expanding historical agreements on the Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters and the Notification of Major Military Activities memoranda of understanding. Denmark said the MOUs were expanded in 2015, with annexes on air-to-air interactions and crisis communications. “These confidence-building measures are enhanced efforts to reduce risk and misunderstanding,” he added.

“DoD has also made progress with the PLA in developing the capacity to cooperate in delivery of international public goods, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counter-piracy, peacekeeping operations, search and rescue, and military medicine,” Denmark said.

By managing competition and seeking mutual-benefit cooperation with China “from a position of strength,” he said, the United States also will look for ways to reduce misunderstanding and miscalculation risks.

“As the United States builds a stronger foundation for a military-to-military relationship with China, we will continue to monitor China's evolving military strategy, doctrine, and force development,” he said. “We’ll continue to encourage China to be more transparent about its military modernization program.”

Overall, the report outlines the complexity of the issues at stake, Denmark said.

“Despite China's opacity about its military, this report documents the kind of military that China is building,” he said. “We hope it contributes to the public’s understanding of the PLA.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoDNews)