Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that the report, scheduled for release today, shows how China "has steadily devoted increasing resources to their military." According to defense officials familiar with the report, it also highlights new strategic missile developments, including China's five new Jin-class submarines, and states that Beijing continues to hide the true level of its military spending.
The officials also said that the report will detail how China is developing two new types of strategic forces that go beyond what nations have done traditionally using air, sea and land forces by aiming to knock out modern communications methods on which the U.S. military relies for advanced warfighting techniques.
First, U.S. intelligence officials estimate that by 2010 China's ASAT missiles will be capable of delivering a knockout blow to many U.S. military satellites. Second, China also is training large numbers of military computer hackers to deliver crippling electronic attacks on U.S. military and civilian computer networks.
Mr. Gates described this year's report as an honest assessment devoid of "arm-waving" and said, "I don't think it does any exaggeration of the threat."
"But it paints a picture of a country that is devoting substantial resources to the military and developing … some very sophisticated capabilities."
Still, the Pentagon chief said keeping threats in perspective is made harder by China's lack of openness and Beijing's communist leaders refusing to talk enough about "what their intentions are, what their strategies are."
"It would be nice to hear firsthand from the Chinese how they view some of these things," he said.
Asked about China's double-digit percent increases in defense spending for more than a decade and advancing weapon technology, Mr. Gates said: "I think some of the capabilities that are being developed are of concern, sure."
China's buildup also appears directed at deploying forces that can be used beyond a regional conflict over Taiwan, which in the past was thought by U.S. officials to be the main objective of China's military modernization.
For example, the report identifies the five new missile submarines, known as the Jin-class, that will each be outfitted with 12 5,000-mile-range JL-2 missiles, vastly improving China's nuclear missile strike capabilities. The new submarines are considered a significant new power projection capability that China did not have from its lone earlier ballistic missile submarine, which stayed in port and did not sail to open ocean.
Officials familiar with the report said that the annual assessment, which is required under congressional legislation, was modified during reviews by officials in the White House National Security Council, the State Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence who sought to play down the Chinese military developments.
The report also does not fully explain the strategic significance of China's Jan. 11 anti-satellite test, which demonstrated Beijing's capability of shooting down an orbiting satellite with ground-launched missiles.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley stated recently that the ASAT test, which involved a missile ramming into a Chinese weather satellite some 500 miles in space, was as significant as the 1957 Soviet launch of the satellite Sputnik, which launched the space race.
The Pentagon report also bolsters the findings of a congressional commission report produced in February by Pentagon consultant Michael Pillsbury who stated that Chinese military "space hawks" advocate using ASAT weapons in a crisis with the U.S. The Pentagon report suggests that these "space hawks" represent the Chinese military's strategic intentions and are not fringe authors, as some pro-China officials claim.
Officials said the release of the report, which was due to Congress in March, also was held up to avoid upsetting the Chinese in the recent Strategic Economic Dialogue, which ended Wednesday. Additionally, they said, the report will be released before a holiday weekend in an effort to minimize press coverage.
Mr. Gates has not revealed in a formal setting his views on China and its military buildup, unlike his predecessor, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who highlighted his concerns over China's military buildup in a 2005 speech in Singapore. Mr. Gates is set to deliver a speech in Singapore next week that officials say likely will reflect his views on Asian security and China.
The China military power report has been a subject of political fighting every year as part of pro-China officials' efforts to promote the Bush administration's pro-business agenda with Beijing. As part of those policies, the Pentagon and U.S. military recently stepped up military exchanges with China, but in ways that critics say disproportionately benefit Beijing.