Several months ago, the U.S. Department of Defense delivered its annual report on China to Congress. The document entitled “Military and Security Developments in the People’s Republic of China” recently began to draw the attention of mainstream media. Considering the revelations contained in the report, this is not a surprise.
The 145-page report delineated several areas in which China’s rapidly growing military may pose a threat to the United States and its interests. These include China’s increased emphasis on long-range bombing capabilities, its focus on deploying military platforms in space, and the growth of China’s shadowy “Maritime Militia” it uses to assert itself in disputed islands in the region.
What may be more intriguing than the report itself, however, was China’s response.
Last week, the China Daily, a Communist Party owned newspaper quoted a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, saying the United States “misinterprets China's strategic intentions” with its military build up. Wu said China's military modernization is only aimed at “safeguarding its sovereignty and security, as well as world peace and stability, and the military reform, weapons development, and cyberspace defense are justifiable and reasonable.” Furthermore, Wu claimed that the whole institution of DoD’s annual report on China “harms the mutual trust” between the U.S. and PRC and fosters a “Cold War mentality” among U.S. policymakers.
While some of the assertions of Colonel Wu are debatable (take for instance the implication that China’s military operations in the region have earned the country nothing but “international praise”) the general flavor of China’s official response is clear. Beijing saw the latest DoD report, with its rough language and methodical layout of potential threats posed by China, as a clear signal: Washington has an eerie concern about China and will likely take more concrete steps to mitigate what it sees as long-term dangers emanating from the country. The last thing China needs with its vision of regional expansion and eventual dominance is the United States becoming more of an obstacle than it already is. It would be overly simplistic to view the Ministry of Defense’s statement as merely an equal reaction to being lambasted by the U.S. There is a very clear desire for rapprochement, even achieving some diplomatic accord. China is trying to reassure the U.S. that they’re not as dangerous as they think and hope to create a “win-win” relationship with America.
Weather the DoD report “misjudged” China’s aims as Beijing claims, is yet to be determined. The question moving forward is, does China actually care about staying on America’s good side as their response strongly implies? Will they perhaps take steps to show their willingness to create that “win-win” scenario? Or will it be business as usual? Perhaps the administration will be able to test the waters and see if Beijing is willing to partner with U.S. interests in Asia and the broader region.
One thing is certain – core disagreements, such as China’s claims on disputed areas in the Pacific and its closely held beliefs of sovereignty over Taiwan are not going away. If China is, in fact, hinting at their willingness to be more cooperative with the U.S., the administration will have to look for other, less controversial issues.