China made substantial progress in building its military strength in 2010 but the US remains “unclear” how Beijing will use its growing capabilities, according to an annual assessment by the Pentagon.
The report, issued on Wednesday, concludes that, militarily, China’s sustained modernisation programme is “paying visible dividends”.
“During 2010, China made strides toward fielding an operational antiship ballistic missile, continued work on its aircraft carrier programme and finalised the prototype of its first stealth aircraft,” the report adds.
Beijing unveiled that stealth aircraft, the J-20, in January, a move closely followed by the maiden voyage of China’s first aircraft carrier.
Although China’s economy has grown rapidly over the past decade, with some estimating it will overtake the US’s economy by 2020, it still falls far behind its main superpower rival in terms of military might.
However, the latest report concludes that the China “is steadily closing the technological gap with modern armed forces”.
China’s military has benefited from increased investment in modern hardware and technology, the report notes, some of which have already reached maturity, while others will become operational in the next few years.
In foreign policy terms, China is also becoming more proactive – this week demanding that it join the international reconstruction effort for Libya.
As part of its broader agenda, the People’s Liberation Army has been tasked with developing capabilities for military operations outside of combat, including peacekeeping, disaster relief and counter-terrorism operations, the report noted.
With tensions between US-allied South Korea and China-allied North Korea still high, US planners are increasingly nervous about what a newly militarised China will mean for geopolitical and military relations in Asia.
Taiwan, which has rejected unification with the People’s Republic, will continue to dominate the PLA’s modernation and operational planning, the report concludes. So far, a long-term non-aggression pact has not been signed.