Chinese soldiers train outside their barracks in Beijing on March 19. A new report says the U.S. underestimates China's military growth. (Mark Ralston / AFP via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The United States has underestimated the growth of China’s military as policymakers have taken public statements at face value or failed to understand Beijing’s thinking, a study said April 5.
The report prepared for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said the U.S. had a mixed record on predicting the rising power’s new weaponry, including largely missing the emergence of more advanced submarines.
As for the speed of military modernization, the study found “identifiable cases of miscalculation” with China developing anti-ship ballistic missiles and stealth fighter jets earlier than the U.S. expected.
U.S. analysis could have improved if more experts read Chinese or even looked at open publications such as academic technical journals, it said.
“U.S. observers should not take at face value statements from the Chinese government on military policy, as they could either be deceptive, or simply issued by agencies” such as the foreign ministry “that have no real say over military matters,” it said.
The staff report was prepared for the commission, which was set up by Congress in 2000 to assess security implications from China and does not represent the views of any U.S. government branch.
The study said that U.S. experts “may have failed to fully appreciate the extent to which the Chinese leadership views the United States as a fundamental threat to China’s security.”
It said that China’s views were “inflamed” by incidents including the 1999 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade that the United States said was accidental and the U.S. show of naval force near Taiwan in 1996 after Beijing’s missile tests.
The study said that U.S. experts assumed in the late 1990s that China would never catch up militarily to the U.S. and would put a low priority on its defense industry compared with other parts of the economy.
“A decade on, it is now clear that much of the conventional wisdom about China dating from the turn of the century has proven to be dramatically wrong,” it said.
“To avoid being similarly caught off-guard in 2022, U.S. analysts should carefully re-examine many of their widely held assumptions about the Chinese government and its policy goals,” it said.
China said its military spending will top $100 billion in 2012, the latest sharp increase. Although many experts believe its actual spending is much higher, it remains far below the $613 billion requested by the U.S. Defense Department for fiscal year 2013.