China’s Ministry of Defence has criticised a report from the Pentagon in the United States detailing China’s growing military strength and nuclear arsenal in the latest barb between the two superpowers.
“We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to this report,” Defence Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian said in a statement, describing the report as exaggerated hype about a “non-existent ‘Chinese military threat’.’’
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Wu defended China’s growing military strength as necessary for safeguarding its national interest and as a deterrent to future war.
China is in the midst of two major campaigns to turn its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into a “world-class military” by 2027 and achieve “national rejuvenation” by 2049.
A key element of “national rejuvenation” includes annexing Taiwan, the democratically-ruled island Beijing claims as part of its territory. While Taiwan’s military is a fraction of the size of the PLA, its longstanding security treaty with Washington means it could have the might of the US military standing behind it in a future war.
In a display of its military strength, China fired missiles over Taiwan in July 2022 and conducted several days of naval exercises in the Taiwan Strait to protest against a visit by then-US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei. The PLA staged similar exercises to mark an unofficial visit by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to the US.
While the PLA can already claim the world’s largest navy, its military might continues to grow in other areas, according to the Pentagon.
Its nuclear arsenal now includes more than 500 warheads with the potential to reach more than 1,000 by 2023, according to the report.
The Pentagon said China may also be considering how to build conventionally armed intercontinental-range missile systems capable of striking the US.
The US and its allies are also concerned with China’s desire to build more overseas naval bases – not unlike the US. Beijing currently has a single base in the East African nation of Djibouti.
Tension in the South China Sea, where China is building islands and conducting aggressive patrols by its navy and militarised fishing fleets, has escalated this year. This week, Manila blamed Beijing for a near collision on Sunday around Second Thomas Shoal within the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The Pentagon report also came after the US accused the PLA air force of more aggressive behaviour, saying there had been “over 180 instances of PLA coercive and risky air intercepts against US aircraft in the region”.
Wu said US efforts to counter China’s military expansion were hypocritical.
The US regularly stages freedom of navigation exercises in disputed places like the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, while it has also exerted diplomatic pressure to keep China from opening more bases.
“The United States pretends to be confused, while doing things that harm China’s security interests, but at the same time shouting that it wants to manage the crisis and strengthen communication,” Wu said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea under its controversial nine-dash line. The sea is also claimed in part by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
China also has maritime disputes with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu in China.