A major policy document published by the United States Defense Department on Friday identifies China as the emerging world power most likely to threaten US status as the world's only superpower. More important, perhaps, the document calls for several steps to counter that potential threat.
The Defense Department document says China's military buildup "puts regional military balances at risk." It says the US needs "counter strategies" to deal with any move by China to deploy military capabilities that could threaten what it calls "traditional US military advantages."
At the same time, the document, called the Quadrennial Defense Review, emphasizes a desire to work with China to moderate its military buildup and to try to ensure that the country plays a constructive role in world affairs. US Undersecretary of Defense Ryan Henry coordinated the year-long process behind the wide-ranging document.
Said Henry: "We want to partner with them to manage their successful rise. We think that some of the attributes of that is one of transparency, one of acquiring military capability but one sufficient for its regional needs, one that will be a constructive partner in the community of nations. And we want to work with them to be able to do that."
Henry indicated that the extent of US willingness to accept the projection of Chinese military power beyond its immediate area will depend on what sort of foreign policy the country pursues.
"We think China should have a military capability sufficient to meet its genuine security needs," Henry said. "Now, how that is translated has a lot to do with what sort of country (China becomes), and how China is going to be contributing to world stability."
Henry said the US needs to be prepared in case China chooses a course that results in confrontation.
"We also want to be able to have a capability to be able to dissuade (China) from any course of action or things that would not be helpful that they might do," he said.
The Quadrennial Defense Review notes that China has increased its defense spending at least 10 per cent in all but one of the last ten years, and it laments the fact that the rest of the world knows little of the Chinese leadership's motivations or goals. It calls on China's leaders to clarify their military plans.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld carried that same message on his first official visit to China last October.
The Pentagon report lays out several challenges for the US military to confront as it prepares to respond to any hostile moves by China. It says the US must develop the capability to sustain its forces over a long distance, improve the military capabilities of what it calls "partner states" in Asia and their ability to work with US forces, and improve multi-lateral intelligence, communications, missile defense and related capabilities.
The report categorizes China as an "emerging power," along with Russia and India. But it says China is the most likely of the three "to compete militarily with the United States." The report says Russia is in transition, and the US wants to work with it on shared goals, such as fighting terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
In contrast with its analysis of China, the defense document says India is emerging as "a great power and a key strategic partner" for the US.