By Song Shengxia
In a long-delayed annual report to US Congress on China's military, the Pentagon seemed to have softened its rhetoric when analyzing a wide range of topics concerning China's military development, but some strategists cautioned that the 74-page document still misinterpreted the growing strength of Beijing's army.
The report points out that China is developing and fielding large numbers of advanced medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles, new attack submarines, increasingly capable long-range air defense systems, electronic warfare and computer network attack capabilities, advanced fighter aircraft, and counter-space systems.
China is also developing its first aircraft carrier and could start construction by the end of the year, the report noted, adding that the nation is also investing in nuclear-powered submarines along with diesel-powered attack submarines.
On a positive note, the Pentagon report acknowledges that the Chinese military has contributed to global peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, as well as anti-piracy operations, while calling for more military cooperation.
"The pace and scope of China's military modernization have increased over the past decade, enabling China's armed forces to develop capabilities to contribute to the delivery of international public goods," it says.
Li Daguang, a professor specializing in military strategies at the National Defense University (NDU), told the Global Times that this year's report is relatively objective, compared with previous ones, but it still contains a lot of misinterpretations about China's military.
"The harsh rhetoric has been softened, and the Cold War logic in this report appears to be weakened. But it has misinterpreted the growing strength of China's navy, which is aimed at protecting China's interests and regional peace, rather than posing threats in international waters," he said.
However, Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, told the Global Times that an overly aggressive tone is still present in the report.
"US authorities are realistic," he said. "What they care about is the impact of China's military rise on regional security."
Zheng added, "The militaries of the two countries have not established mutual trust, and the US and other Western countries make a lot of speculations on China's military force."
Meng Xiangqing, a professor with the Institute for National Strategic Studies at NDU, said, "The interfering nature of the report remains unchanged. It will surely draw discontent from China over its exaggeration of its military power."
The report, which was originally due to be released in March, was renamed "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China," a change from the previous name: "Military Power of the People's Republic of China."
The report said the Chinese mainland had deployed 1,050 to 1,150 short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan by December.
It is upgrading this force's lethality, "including by introducing variants of these missiles with improved ranges, accuracies and payloads," the report said.
Beijing has "continued unabated" the military buildup near the Taiwan Straits, and "the balance of cross-Strait military forces continues to shift in the mainland's favor," the Pentagon report says.
Li said it is inaccurate to describe the security situation across the Taiwan Straits as wrangling or a balancing of military power.
"The growth of the mainland's naval force never targets Taiwan," he said.
The Pentagon report recognizes China's progress in enhancing the transparency of its military but says it seems only moderate improvement is being made in the transparency of China's military and security affairs, and adds that more information should be made available.
"The limited transparency in China's military and security affairs enhances uncertainty and increases the potential for misunderstandings and miscalculations," the report stated.
Li dismissed that statement, saying no country can be absolutely transparent in terms of its military force.
"China increases the transparency of its military in accordance with international rules, and it is impossible for China to reach the degree of transparency requested by the US," he said.
The report says the US seeks dialogue with China to reduce misapprehension, but also warns that China's military is using military exchanges with the Pentagon "to communicate political messages and shape perceptions of China among foreign leaders."
China announced in January that it was suspending military exchanges with the United States after President Barack Obama approved a $6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan. In June, Beijing refused a proposed visit by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Peng Guangqian, a military expert, said China welcomes military exchanges but retains its right to suspend them if Washington intends to mess with China's interests.
"We need to know their intent in military exchanges," Peng said. "We highly welcome exchanges that focus on cooperation and technology exchanges. But we can't build mutual trust on the basis of frequent military drills near China's border lines."
Liu Linlin contributed to this story