Pentagon Report Warns of Chinese Military Threat

Could China's growing military strength someday threaten American interests? A Pentagon report says China is expanding its military in ways that could intimidate Taiwan and other neighboring countries allied to the United States. The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, which will be sent to Congress on Monday, calls for repositioning U.S. air and naval resources to the Pacific.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up: an update on two international elections, one in Nepal, the other Costa Rica.

BRAND: But first, China. The Pentagon is worried about that country's military power. In the quadrennial defense review sent to Congress this week, the Pentagon calls for repositioning significant air and naval resources from the Atlantic to the Pacific. NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

Congress requires the Pentagon to do a comprehensive review of the nation's military strategy every four years, and the 2006 report reflects growing U.S. weariness about China's military might and it's intentions. The report mandates an increased U.S. naval presence in the Pacific. Specifically, it says the Navy will base at least six aircraft carriers and 60% of its submarines in the region.

Analyst Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute attended a Pentagon briefing on the QDR last week.

Mr. TOM DONNELLY (American Enterprise Institute): The QDR is a milestone in the long-term process of repositioning U.S. forces, particularly naval forces, in the Pacific. Even going back to the 2001 QDR, there's been arecognition in the Pentagon of expanding Chinese military power in a way that puts traditional American posture in the Pacific somewhat in jeopardy.

O'HARA: The QDR follows up on the Pentagon's annual assessment of China's military capabilities, released last July. It concluded that China's military ambitions were expanding. One piece of evidence: Beijing's rapid acquisition of submarines. Again, Tom Donnelly.

Mr. DONNELLY: They bought a series of destroyers with very fast attack missiles on them, sort of ships intended to put aircraft carriers at risk, and they're also trying to involve their own blue water naval power projection capability and longer range aircraft and ballistic missiles.

O'HARA: Donnelly says the U.S. is very concerned about China's growing ability to project power beyond its shores.

Mr. DONNELLY: Just a couple months ago, a Chinese submarine turned up in Japanese home waters, which sort of scared the pants off the Japanese.

O'HARA: The U.S. concern about China is not new. James Mulvenon, an analyst with the Washington-based center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, says the Bush administration even before 9/11 had been seeking to enhance the U.S. military posture in the pacific to deal with changing threats following the end of the Cold War.

Mr. JAMES MULVENON (Analyst, Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis): Principally, terrorism in southeast Asia and the rise of China and the North Korean nuclear problem in northeast Asia.

O'HARA: The main concern, though, according to Mulvenon, is that China's military modernization could threaten the U.S. ability to respond quickly to any Chinese coercion against Taiwan.

Mr. MULVENON: As a result, we decided to move U.S. military forces farther forward onto Guam and other U.S. territories so that we would have more flexibility in responding to a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

O'HARA: The United States has been building up facilities on Guam, creating submarine slips and runways. This QDR underscores the importance of that effort. Dan Blumenthal, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, formerly worked at the Pentagon on China issues. He says the United States biggest problem in the Pacific is gaining rapid access to an area of conflict.

Mr. DAN BLUMENTHAL (Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute): That is the reason for the buildup on Guam. Guam both provides another staging area as well as the types of capabilities being put on Guam: you know, bomber and fighter forces and submarines and the types of the forces that the U.S. would need in various contingencies related to China.

O'HARA: China maintains that its military is designed for defense not offense, but Dan Blumenthal says that the ways in which China is developing its military call that into question.

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: When you are developing, as China is, a cruise and ballistic force, a submarine force, information warfare types of forces, things that can really cause problems for the United States in terms of meeting its defense commitment to Taiwan, meeting other defense commitments in the region, it's just prudent to ask yourself what Chinese intentions are and therefore to respond and be able to meet your commitments.

O'HARA: The 2006 quadrennial defense review suggests that U.S. military is not going to take chances.

Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, Washington.

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