The U.S. Congress requires the Department of Defense to annually assess and report on the status of China’s military.
Each year this report garners its share of discussion and controversy. This year, however, more than most, the news reports surrounding the Pentagon’s report on China’s military make one wonder, “What really is ground truth?”
One of the first reports on the document came from Bill Gertz of The Washington Times.
I have known Bill Gertz for perhaps 15 years. He is a true professional when evaluating Pentagon documents, meanings and intentions. Pentagon insiders frequently take him into their confidence. It is not entirely unknown for Gertz to practically quote from secret Pentagon documents.
Under the headline, “Pentagon details China’s new military strategies,” on May 25, 2007, Gertz wrote, “China’s military buildup is moving beyond countering Taiwan to global operations from the Middle East through Southeast Asia, according to the Pentagon’s annual assessment of Chinese military power.”
He continued, “The statement, released yesterday, contradicts assessments of some pro-China analysts and intelligence officials who have said the nation’s military buildup is relatively benign and limited to resolving the sovereignty issue of Taiwan, which was separated from China in 1949 during a civil war.”
The next day (May 26) Gertz wrote under the headline “Pentagon tracks global buildup in China’s military.”
In both articles Gertz documented several areas of Chinese activity of concern to the Pentagon. These included China’s recent destruction of a satellite in space with anti-satellite (ASAT) capability and China’s aggressive hacking and intrusion attempts into U.S. military computer systems.
In stark contrast Gertz’s reports, Foster Klug of the Associated Press took practically the opposite approach under the headline “U.S.: China lacks power for Taiwan fight.” Klug wrote, “The Pentagon is warning China in blunt language that despite Beijing’s massive military buildup, it lacks the power for a successful attack against rival Taiwan.”
Meanwhile, China’s state-controlled People’s Daily editorial staff writer Xi Laiwang said, “China maintains a certain level of military strength out of an objective need for self defense, which is proper in order to safeguard its national security and territorial integrity and does not pose a threat to any country.”
So which is it? Is China an emerging global super power or an ineffective military power unable to overcome its neighbor, Taiwan? Or is China, as Xi Laiwang says, merely maintaining a force sufficient for self defense?
Only one thing is agreed by most analysts: China is engaged in a “massive military buildup.” The question is, for what purpose and how effective can it quickly influence world events?