Expressing concern over China's massive military build-up, a top US intelligence official has told lawmakers that the Communist nation will continue to pursue an "active" foreign policy, especially in the Asia Pacific region, to expand its strategic and economic influence.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told members of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing on Worldwide threats yesterday that China viewed a strong military as a "critical element" in advancing its interest.
"China will continue to pursue an active foreign policy, especially within the Asia-Pacific region. Highlighted by a firm stance on competing territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea, relations with Taiwan and its pursuit of economic engagement across East Asia," Coats said.
"China, which views a strong military as a critical element in advancing its interest, will also pursue efforts aimed at fulfilling its ambitious One Belt, One Road Initiative to expand China's strategic influence and economic role across Asia through infrastructure projects," Coats said in his testimony.
Echoing Coats, Lt Gen Vincent Stewart, Director, Defence Intelligence Agency said China was in the third decade of an unprecedented military modernisation programme involving weapon systems, doctrine tactics, training space and cyber operations.
"It now stands firmly in the category is a near pure US competitor. New bases are being built in the South China Sea, and evidence suggests that these outposts will be used for military purposes," he said.
A key component of China strategy for regional contingency is planning for potential US intervention in a conflict in the region, Stewart said.
"It's Navy remains on a course for 350 ships by the year 2020 and anti-Axis aerial denial capabilities continue to improve," he said.
Stewart said China was improving the PLA's capability to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts by undertaking a long-term, comprehensive military modernisation programme.
In 2016, the PLA increased its preparations for contingencies along China's periphery, including conflicts in the East and South China Seas, at the same time that planning for a Taiwan contingency continued to drive military modernisation efforts, he said.
"The PLA is implementing massive structural reforms designed to improve leadership, administration, and command of joint operations across the force by 2020," he said, adding that changes include re-balancing the forces to raise the relative importance of the Navy and Air Force and establishing a theatre joint command system for the five theatres of operation.
Recent military reforms in China created the Strategic Support Force, designed to consolidate the PLA's cyber, space, and electronic warfare capabilities, he noted.
Stewart said the US anticipated that China will continue its robust defence spending growth for the foreseeable future.
In March 2017, China announced a seven per cent inflation-adjusted increase in the annual military budget, bringing it to USD 148.4 billion, continuing more than two decades of annual defence spending increases, he said.
"China is developing capabilities to dissuade, deter, or if ordered, defeat possible third-party intervention during a large-scale theatre campaign, such as a Taiwan contingency," Stewart said.
"China's military modernisation plan includes the development of capabilities to attack at long ranges adversaries that might deploy or operate within the western Pacific Ocean in the air, maritime, undersea, space, electromagnetic, and information domains," he said.
He said China had fielded CSS-5 anti-ship ballistic missiles specifically designed to hold adversary aircraft carriers at risk 1,500 kilometres off its coast.
In 2016, Chinese official media confirmed China's intent to go forward with mid-course missile defence capabilities on both land and sea assets, reflecting work on ballistic missile defence dating back several decades, he added.
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