WASHINGTON China is developing the ability to limit or prevent the use of satellites by potential adversaries during times of crisis, the Pentagon said Monday in a report to Congress.
The report, the latest in a series of annual assessments of China's military power, says Beijing views its efforts in space warfare as not only a practical advance of military power but also a boost to national prestige.
In space and other aspects of China's military modernization, the Pentagon stuck to its oft-repeated view that China's first priority is to build a broad-based capability to prevent Taiwanese independence. It said China's focus on space warfare is an important part of that Taiwan strategy.
"China further views the development of space and counter-space capabilities as bolstering national prestige and, like nuclear weapons, demonstrating the attributes of a world power," the report said.
China typically objects to the Pentagon's depiction of its military programs and policies. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Monday's report.
At a Pentagon news conference, David Sedney, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, predicted the Chinese would protest this year that the report is "anti-China" and misleading. Sedney said that for the first time, U.S. and Chinese officials will meet to discuss the report; he said it was being briefed Monday to China's senior military representative in Washington.
The Chinese military, known as the People's Liberation Army, is acquiring technologies to improve its ability to operate in space and is "developing the ability to attack an adversary's space assets," the report said.
"PLA writings emphasize the necessity of 'destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy's reconnaissance/observation and communications satellites,' suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among initial targets of attack to 'blind and deafen the enemy," the report said.
The Bush administration was highly critical of China's shootdown in January 2007 of one of its weather satellites, asserting that the orbiting debris created by the attack poses a danger to other assets in space.
Last month, when the Pentagon shot down a dead U.S. spy satellite, China expressed concern, although U.S. officials said the shootdown did not mean the United States had dropped its objections to possessing a permanent anti-satellite capability.
More broadly, the Pentagon report released Monday asserted that Beijing's reluctance to share details about its military buildup poses a risk to stability in Asia. It said the international community has limited knowledge of the motivations, decision-making and capabilities of China's military modernization. This includes a lack of clarity about China's defense spending. Washington contends that Beijing understates that spending program by the equivalent of tens of billions of dollars.
"The lack of transparency in China's military and security affairs poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation," the report said. "This situation will naturally and understandably lead to hedging against the unknown."
This year's report place increased emphasis on concern about China's space programs and potential for space warfare. It also said China is improving its own satellite capability, including construction of a new satellite launch complex on Hainan Island.
And it said China expects to replace all foreign-produced satellites in its inventory with home-produced models by 2010.
In a similar vein, the report said China appears to be developing a cyberwarfare capability.
"In the past year, numerous computer networks around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, were subject to intrusions that appear to have originated within the PRC," the report said, using the initials for the People's Republic of China. "These intrusions require many of the skills and capabilities that would also be required for computer network attack."
The overall military buildup in China has increased in recent years, the Pentagon said.
"China's expanding and improving military capabilities are changing East Asian military balances; improvements in China's strategic capabilities have implications beyond the Asia-Pacific region," the report said.
The main short-term focus of China's military buildup is the Taiwan Strait, the report said.
As of November 2007, the Chinese military had deployed between 990 and 1,070 short-range ballistic missiles to garrisons opposite Taiwan, according to the Pentagon's latest estimate. That compares with 900 such missiles reported in last year's Pentagon report.
Every spring, the Pentagon is required by Congress to provide a comprehensive assessment of China's security and military strategy, an analysis of developments in its military doctrine and capabilities, and an update on the security situation in the Taiwan Strait.
U.S.-China military relations have been strained in recent years over numerous issues, not limited to American concerns about the scope of Beijing's military buildup. But there also have been some positive moves, including two agreements signed last week in Shanghai one on installing a telephone hot line between the Chinese Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Defense Department, and the other on research in Chinese military archives related to U.S. MIAs from the Korean War.