China's Foreign Ministry denounced the latest Pentagon report on Chinese military developments, claiming that it was full of untruths and based on an outdated "Cold War" mentality. The report describes in detail the People's Liberation Army's advances in air, ground, sea, nuclear, and cyber warfare, as well as Chinese island building in the South China Sea.
Hong Lei, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, claimed that the report "made unfounded accusations against the development of Chinese national defense." He claimed it was "full of prejudice against China," and that the U.S.-not China-was responsible for militarizing the South China Sea. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said the report had "severely damaged" trust between the two countries.
Lei stated that China had made "solemn representations" to the U.S. State Department, and urged the U.S. to "cast aside the Cold War mentality." China's remarks on the annual report were the strongest to date. So far, China has not stated what in the report it considers "unfounded accusations." The report is generally no different than past reports, with the exception of an expanded section on island construction in the South China Sea.
The report, "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China" [PDF], is published annually by the Pentagon, an act mandated by Congress. The report doesn't pull punches about China's military growth, including its expansion of reefs and islets in the South China Sea into military bases capable of supporting combat aircraft.
The report has considerable details on China's island-building efforts in the South China Sea. China, which claims approximately 90 percent of the South China Sea, has created approximately 3,200 acres of dry land in the South China Sea by dredging the waters around uninhabitable islets and reefs, turning them into artificial islands. The islands are then used to bolster claims of Chinese ownership of the sea-despite calls by neighbors and others in the international community that Chinese claims infringe on their own or essentially privatize what was previously considered international waters.
According to the Pentagon, contrary to China's claims that the islands have peaceful uses, the new islands are part of a new military infrastructure. Radar stations, airfields, harbors, the HQ-9 surface to air missile system, and the YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missile have all been spotted on the islands, and many are being equipped with 9,800 foot-long runaways capable of supporting military aircraft.
The report also details progress in conventional forces. The Pentagon estimates China's submarine force of 62 attack and ballistic missile submarines will grow to between 69 and 78 submarines by 2020. Among those will be the Type 093 Shang-class attack submarine, which has been fitted with vertical launch missile silos much like the American Virginia-class, a new nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine (SSGN), and a new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, the Type 096. A new guided missile destroyer, the Type 055, is in development and a new aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, is under construction at the Dalian shipyards.
The Pentagon also says that the Chinese Air Force is the third largest air force in the world, with 2,800 aircraft-including 2,100 fighters, bombers, and attack aircraft. China has a core force of 600 modern so-called "fourth generation" combat planes, and has at least two fifth generation designs under development, including the Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang FC-31 fighters, roughly in the same class as the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, respectively.
China is making significant strides in catching up to western air forces, particularly in regards to command and control, airborne early warning, and electronic warfare aircraft. China is currently developing a heavy transport, the Xian Y-20, which is similar in appearance and capability to the American C-17 Globemaster III.
Beijing is also making significant progress in contesting what it calls "the commanding height in international strategic competition"-space. China continues to advocate the peaceful use of space, while emulating the United States in launching communications, navigation, and spy satellites to support its fighting forces. China is also thought to be working on a covert anti-satellite system, a ground-launched system that can reach a peak trajectory of 18,600 miles-high enough to reach most American satellites, including the GPS satellites used by civilians and military.
Finally, Beijing is upgrading its nuclear forces. The Rocket Force, formerly known as the Second Artillery Corps, has an estimated 75 to 100 ICBMs capable of reaching the United States. A road-mobile ICBM is under development, as is the ability to pack multiple warheads into a single ICBM, a system known as MIRV. China also has four Jin-class ballistic missile submarines, with a fifth under construction. While all of this sounds formidable, it must be kept in mind that China has only produced an estimated 200 to 300 nuclear bombs-fifty of which have already been used-and that many of the MIRV warheads will likely be decoys.