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Pentagon warns of potential problems with militarily strong China

By Charley Keyes, CNN Senior National Security Producer
Honor guards of the Three Services of the Chinese People's Liberation Army drill during a training session  in Beijing in July.
Honor guards of the Three Services of the Chinese People's Liberation Army drill during a training session in Beijing in July.
  • NEW: Armed Services chair warns of opportunistic efforts amid global financial crisis
  • China has tested a stealth fighter jet, conducted sea trials on an aircraft carrier
  • Defense official calls China's military expansion "potentially destabilizing"
  • U.S. support for Taiwan creates tension with China

Washington (CNN) -- The Pentagon issued fresh warnings Wednesday that China's military expansion could stir up new tensions and provoke dangerous misunderstandings

"The pace and scope of China's sustained military investment have allowed China to pursue capabilities we believe are potentially destabilizing to regional military balances, increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation and may contribute to regional tensions and anxieties," Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Michael Schiffer said.

"Such capabilities could increase Beijing's options to use military force to gain diplomatic advantage, advance its interests or resolve military disputes in its favor."

The annual survey of defense and security issues involving China has produced a litany of short-term and ongoing concerns in recent years. Past reports have focused on increased overall spending on the military; the enhanced range of ballistic and anti-ship missiles; the military's lack of transparency and expanded power-projection capability; and increased spending on efforts to break into U.S. military computers.

A consistent theme in the reports has been the potential threat the Communist nation's military growth poses to regional stability and to Taiwan in particular.

We do think China is undertaking an effort to build its own indigenous aircraft carriers
--Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia
  • The Pentagon
  • China
  • Taiwan

A classified report was presented to Congress and an 83-page version was made public.

U.S. Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Congress "will review this assessment in greater detail" in the coming weeks but noted two things that stood out in the report:

"First, Beijing's increasing assertiveness and military capabilities, particularly China's ability to deny access to the western Pacific, is of growing concern not only to the United States but to China's neighbors, leading to changes in the military posture of regional actors," the California Republican said in a statement. "This has significant consequences for the security and stability of the region.

"Second, China clearly believes that it can capitalize on the global financial crisis, using the United States' economic uncertainty as a window of opportunity to strengthen China's economic, diplomatic, and security interests," he said.

"Therefore, security in the Pacific could be further jeopardized if our regional allies also come to believe that the United States will sacrifice the presence and capability of the U.S. military in an attempt to control spending," McKeon said. "This is an unacceptable outcome in such a vital region of the globe."

The Pentagon report called for new efforts to share military information with Beijing, and it praised China for international involvement in such areas as humanitarian and disaster relief and countering pirates.

But the U.S. continues to voice its concerns about a steady Chinese military buildup, including testing of a stealth fighter jet, sea trials of an aircraft carrier it purchased and rebuilt and development of new capabilities under the seas, in space and online.

"There are very real questions, given the overall trends and trajectory in the scope and the scale of China's military modernization efforts," Schiffer said at the Pentagon. "I wouldn't put it on any one particular platform or any one particular system."

He predicted that China would continue to develop the aircraft carrier it bought from Ukraine in 1998 and its combat capability, as well as build new ships.

"We do think China is undertaking an effort to build its own indigenous aircraft carriers," Schiffer said. "I won't speculate on the number, but likely more than one, being developed in the future."

The report said China's economic development and expanding scientific and technology base "facilitated a comprehensive and ongoing military modernization program."

And that larger, newer military could change China's role. "China's modernized military could be put to use in ways that increase China's ability to gain diplomatic advantage to resolve disputes in its favor," the report said.

U.S. support for Taiwan continues to be a source of tension between the U.S. and China. "Beijing is developing capabilities intended to deter, delay or deny possible U.S. support for the island in the event of conflict," the report said. "The balance of cross-(Taiwan) Strait military forces and capabilities continues to shift in the Mainland's favor."

Schiffer would not say whether a copy of the report had been sent to Chinese leaders. He also would not comment on whether Pakistan had given Chinese officials access to wreckage of a super-secret helicopter left behind after the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound.