WASHINGTON China’s emergence as an economic and military power continues to influence debates here on its military intentions, the direction of its closely-linked economic strategy and how the U.S., Europe and the rest of Asia should respond.
The annual debate over Chinese military power was reignited by a Defense Department report to Congress this week warning that China is emerging as a regional military threat. Beijing reacted angrily to the report, calling it meddling in Chinese internal affairs. But U.S. analysts noted that the Pentagon report was far less scathing than expected.
What’s more, observers noted that Chinese government officials merely complained about the report’s tone, but did not dispute its findings. “China is in the midst of a large [military] buildup,” said China technology analyst and consultant Kathleen Walsh. “What’s it for?”
In an apparent attempt to mollify its congressional critics, Beijing revalued its currency, the yuan. While technology groups praised the move, critics stressed that the revaluation fell far short of the 10 percent to 15 percent change sought by U.S. officials.
Walsh said the DoD report and related moves underscore the notion that Beijing has reached a strategic crossroads over its role in Asian security affairs. Beijing continues its saber rattling towards neighboring Taiwan, but beyond that its intentions in the region are unclear. One positive sign, Walsh said, is that China’s annual military white paper is beginning to shed more light on its intentions.
China has long sought to integrate its growing economic power with its emerging military posture in Asia. At the heart of this “civil-military integration” is indigenous technology development coupled with access to foreign technology through joint ventures. The Defense Department report highlighted these efforts, and China experts have stressed that Beijing is beginning to invest heavily in its defense industry. The result could be the creation of a military infrastructure patterned closely after the U.S. model.
Tai Ming Cheung, a China military expert at the University of California-San Diego, told a recent conference here on technology and China’s growing influence in Asia that China’s leaders made integrated civil-military technology development a priority in the late 1990s. The goal is balanced development of a dual-use technology base, Tai said. Despite some areas of technology expertise, he added that much of China’s output remains low-tech and relatively inefficient.