Pentagon Report Reveals Chinese Military Developments
Image Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

Pentagon Report Reveals Chinese Military Developments


After a year-long hiatus, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)’s annual report on Chinese military developments is back and better than ever. Its 43-page 2012 predecessor was widely criticized for arriving far later than Congress requested and containing little substance or new data. But this year’s expeditiously-issued 92-page document continues a tradition of detailed, sophisticated, publicly-available U.S. government analysis previously seen in the 2011 DoD report, the 2010 National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) report on China’s air force, and the 2009 and 2007 Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) reports on China’s navy.

Like these other landmark reports, this year’s DoD iteration clearly and understandably comes from a U.S. military perspective, yet strives to provide a comprehensive picture of Chinese military developments and the strategic concerns that motivate them. This represents an admirable effort to offer a balanced assessment, as can be seen in remarks at the time of its release by David F. Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia. Useful data are presented on everything from Chinese sea- and -land based energy access to apparent ambiguities in Beijing’s “no first use” nuclear doctrine to members of the Central Military Commission and their key professional relationships.

All this context matters deeply, and should be commended. But arguably the report’s greatest contribution lies in more specific areas: providing authoritative assessments of key People’s Liberation Army (PLA) developments that are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve or confirm via other publicly-available sources, such as Beijing’s own recently-released 2013 Defense White Paper—which, like many Chinese public strategic documents, offers few specifics. Chinese government representatives are already out in force criticizing this year’s DoD report and claiming that its content is distorted or inaccurate, but as usual do not offer credible evidence to clarify or counter even the report’s most important assertions. Yet it is precisely in such areas—which include hard-to-attribute cyber activities and other types of espionage—that observers of China’s military development need the greatest governmental assistance. After all, as a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed argues cogently: “In the long run Beijing usually does what it says it is going to do, although the execution may be concealed with deception.”

With respect to obfuscation, the report documents that China has conducted multiple naval operations in the undisputed U.S. Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of a nature that it would oppose a foreign military such as that of the U.S. conducting in its own claimed EEZ—which it is projected to fill with increasing numbers of maritime law enforcement vessels. While the report states that China is conducting such activities in the EEZs of multiple states, a reference that almost certainly includes Japan, it is worth noting the report’s exact wording with respect to the United States: “the United States has observed over the past year several instances of Chinese naval activities in the EEZ around Guam and Hawaii. One of those instances was during the execution of the annual Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in July/August 2012. While the United States considers the PLA Navy activities in its EEZ to be lawful, the activity undercuts China’s decades-old position that similar foreign military activities in China’s EEZ are unlawful.” It will be particularly interesting to see how Beijing responds to such revelations, which further underscore the emerging contradictions between China’s promotion of restrictive approaches vis-à-vis foreign military and governmental activities in the Near Seas (Yellow, East, and South China Seas) even as it pursues increasing access to such other strategic seas as the Western Pacific and the Arctic. Given this complexity, perhaps Beijing’s approach for now will be to denounce the report generally while avoiding this specific issue.

col.rtd. up urs sanders
December 8, 2013 at 16:02

while the usa sleeps china has been stealing militery secrets.through its proxies singapore and just like what happend in pearl harbour .u.s was caught off there is ruthless chinese spies all over the usa.even europe and australia. high in the militery and goverment level.just waiting for their orders to strike.the chines have been buying raw material at breakneck speed.stupid west is thinking that the chinesere real businessmen.the chinese have dug deep into the ground to buld nuclear bunkers, under the pretext of coal mining. they make the norh koreans play with the nuclear toys while the usa spy from the space are occupied on n.koreans the chinese are doing some major shifting. we hope the cia and nsa arseholes will really do a proper job.

July 30, 2013 at 18:02

Yeah. that bullying strategy worked so well for Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, didn't it.

July 22, 2013 at 02:11

China has got enough research institute now. It does not need any technology from west anymore. Now let us see who progresses faster in science and technology. West only bragg about china stealing their technology but never realises that gun powder and paper technology invented by chinese gave the mankind the kind of technology we have today. china give the west credit for improving its usage when it was weak and disorganised. It does not mean that european were more intelligent which chinese will never agree. So, stop bragging, now that china can progress its own. You may leave.

December 13, 2013 at 07:55

You absolutely right .China is first early invention of weapon.Due to internal civil war inside china had no time to further development .Don’t harping at china about latest inventory.China can more time R &D now as before.

June 25, 2013 at 03:31

That is a foolish analogy.

Troll Hater
May 16, 2013 at 22:14

What rubbish from ACT – CIA Troll.

May 16, 2013 at 00:59

Gunpowder was invented by the Chinese, and the technology then spread to Europe. So I guess every single war the West has fought since the Middle Ages is based on stolen Chinese technology? The West should thank China for one of the greatest inventions in human history. If not for the stolen Chinese gunpowder technology, Seal Team Six would've had to kill Osama Bin Laden with crossbows and broadswords.

May 16, 2013 at 00:07

And more people within the PLA seem to be proving my theory that China "considers its former vassal states or tributaries to be its territory" on a daily basis; they're all but lining up! best one is this recent comment about Okinawa by 2-Star General Luo Yuan, off of the South China Morning Post:

"Luo Yuan, a People's Liberation Army two-star general, has said that Japan could not rightfully claim sovereignty over the islands, because they had started paying tribute to China half a millenium before they had done so to Japan."

more specifically: "Let's for now not discuss whether [the Ryukyu] belong to China, they were certainly China's tributary state," said the major general. "I am not saying all former tributary states belong to China, but we can say with certainty that the Ryukyus do not belong to Japan."

to Mr. Luo; and if they don't belong to Japan, it doesn't automatically mean that they belong to China; more notably, your nation has waged war against, invaded or harassed every. single. nation. that used to pay tribute to the old Chinese Empire at some point during the course of the various dynasties: Tibet and Xinjiang are age-of-imperialism colonies in all but name; Vietnam has been harassed, invaded, had its fishermen killed, and had is legal economic claims and operations violated; Korea has been split in two, with the government of the north–which would make the leaders of Airstrip One proud–is propped up only by the fact that your nation funds them with resources and materiel due to your nation's need for a buffer state against the representative republics that your government so poorly apes; Japan has been demonized, the subject of ever-louder nationalism that calls for revanchism and their outright subjugation, despite the fact that their various diplomats have appologised on some level at an average of once every seven years; malaysia et al. are being flooded by low quality goods and poisoned food, bought off for their resources and given little–if anything in return–the Philippines has had its territory and economic zone–mandated as per international law–stolen from it, with the latest siezure by your nation being a little more than 100km from its shores. Of all your tributaries, no matter how temporary, the only one your nation has not violated or harassed in some way and effectively disputed their sovereignty is Great Britain, which briefly paid tribute as a matter of course before they handed your "zhongguo" the epic smackdown that was the Opium Wars. So yes, your nation is saying that virtually all of its tributaries belong to it. What have you–or your fellows–to say in your collective defense? you claim that the age of gunboat diplomacy is over? Act like it, and set the bloody example.

May 15, 2013 at 23:41

Chinese Superiority? LOL. Chinese only got this far by stealing sensitive information about technology from the West. Stealing had been an integral part of Chinese Military and Economic Poilicy. Your government may deny it all they want but it is still the truth. So next time you boast a speck of your military, thank the West for spending billions of dollars in developing the technology for your country.

May 15, 2013 at 18:42


I am curious about your knowledge of American dispositions during the Korean War. Where do you get your information regarding the caliber of American troops in Korea? Where were the WWII vets?

[...] the U.S. Department of Defense’s latest assessment of China (see Andrew Erickson’s Take here), DoD released another very important report with some crucial information all its [...]

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