While Iraq and Iran are front and center for the Bush
administration's foreign policy managers, the most significant
single relationship for the United States in the coming decade may
be that with China.
China in recent years has achieved incredible economic
development, growing at an astonishing rate. It has launched a
vigorous new diplomatic campaign throughout the world, not the least
to tie up new sources of oil for its growing needs. It is now the
world's second-largest consumer and third-largest importer of oil.
It has become a major player on the world stage. Its communist
leaders assert that its new international prominence is all part of
what it calls its "Peaceful Development Road" policy.
But it has also been building up its military power. Small
wonder, then, that US-China watchers are paying special attention to
the release last week of the Pentagon's annual report to Congress on
the state of China's military.
The report finds the People's Liberation Army transforming itself
from a mass army designed for protracted wars of attrition on its
territory to a more modern force capable of fighting short-
duration, high-intensity conflicts against high-tech adversaries.
China's ability to sustain military power at a distance is limited.
But the Pentagon assessment says that China has the "greatest
potential to compete militarily with the United States and field
disruptive military technologies that could over time offset
traditional US military advantages."
This new buildup has troubled US Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld who pondered publicly last year: "Why this growing
investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms
purchases?" The Pentagon claims there is a lack of transparency
about Chinese intentions and believes actual Chinese expenditure on
military programs is between two and three times greater than
officially disclosed figures.
The latest Pentagon assessment is that in the near-term, China's
military buildup is probably focused on preparing for "Taiwan Strait
contingencies, including the possibility of US intervention." China
has deployed more than 700 mobile and short-range ballistic missiles
in its coastal garrisons opposite Taiwan, and has boosted its ground-
force military personnel in the three military regions opposite
Taiwan to 400,000. It has more than 700 combat aircraft based within
range of Taiwan and is acquiring advanced fighter aircraft from
The US treads a delicate path in the region. …