Pentagon Report Points at China's Military Ambitions

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: To security concerns of another sort, in China now, the Pentagon released a report yesterday that for the first time openly blames China's military for cyber-attacks against US government computer systems. The report also detailed the recent growth and modernization of China's military, including the development of China's first stealth aircraft and its first aircraft carrier. This all comes in the wake of some aggressive moves by the Chinese military in disputed regions around Asia. The World's Mary Kay Magistad in Beijing has been monitoring Chinese reaction to the Pentagon report.

Mary Kay Magistad: There was a very interesting report from the state-run news agency, Xinhua. It basically said that these were groundless accusations, a groundless report, but then there was this line, which I haven't heard put quite this way in all my time in China, which was, and I'm quoting here, "As a global economic power, China has a tremendous number of economic sea lanes to protect. China is justified to develop its military capabilities to safeguard its sovereignty and protect its vast interests around the world." Now this is in sharp contrast to China having said for many, many years that it is not hegemonic, that its military is there purely for defensive purposes. It did still say this in this news article, but the two lines were smack up against each other. "China's military is a staunch force to uphold world peace and regional stability," and then, but we have all these interests around the world and we intend to protect them.

Werman: That almost sounds like imperialism light.

Magistad: Well, they could say it sounds like the United States.

Werman: There seems to be big concern in the US about China's first aircraft carrier in this report. Any other hardware that China has that also poses some concerns for the US?

Magistad: Quite a lot. The report mentioned three already operational nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines. It mentioned an anti-ship ballistic missile that can take out aircraft carriers. And it mentioned just a general upgrading of the Chinese navy to the extent that it could actually be operational about 1,000 nautical miles off of China's coast in what's called blue water, or deep water, the high seas. So when China is saying that it wants to protect its sea lanes, these are also sea lanes that the US is concerned about and where the US Pacific fleet operates now.

Werman: Now in this report the US seems to focus on cyber-spying and the Chinese modernized military, and this is just as China's military is kind of on guard. On Sunday, three Chinese government ships entered the disputed zone off the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands. And then yesterday came a tentative end to a tense three-week stand-off between China and India over disputed territory there. What is all that about, and is China feeling like it's on the ropes right now with these territories?

Magistad: It appears to be some testing and probing by the new Chinese government. Xi Jinping became president in March, he became head of the party in November, and his approach has been to use a more robust, more aggressive approach to the military as a way of consolidating his power. What's not known is is this mostly just a way to consolidate his power but he doesn't really intend to act, or is this a moment in china where the economy is slowing down, there are a lot of problems that aren't going to be resolved quickly, and like many countries in history have done, maybe a little war somewhere to rally national support wouldn't be a bad thing at this point.

Werman: The World's Mary Kay Magistad in Beijing. Thank you.

Magistad: Thank you.