WASHINGTON – China’s military spending exceeded $145 billion last year as it advanced a program modernizing an arsenal of drones, warships, jets, missiles and cyberattacks, the Pentagon said Thursday, presenting a far higher figure than Beijing’s official tally.
The Pentagon’s estimate, using 2013 prices and exchange rates, was 21 percent above the $119.5 billion announced earlier by China. It was detailed in an annual report to Congress that cited steady progress in Chinese defense capabilities.
It acknowledged that estimating such military expenditures can be difficult, in part because of China’s “poor accounting transparency and incomplete transition from a command economy.”
The Chinese Defense Ministry, in a statement on its website, announced it was “resolutely opposed” to the Pentagon report.
“Year after year the United States issues this so-called report on ‘Military and Security Developments in China,’ making preposterous criticisms of China’s normal defense and military building, exaggerating the ‘China military threat,’ which is totally wrong,” the ministry said.
“As for the detailed contents of this year’s U.S. report, we are currently assessing it, and will react further, depending on the situation,” it added.
The report came just days after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, using unusually strong language, accused Beijing of destabilizing the region in pursuit of multiple territorial claims.
China lays stake to almost the entire South China Sea, which may contain valuable gas and mineral resource, and dismisses competing claims from Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. The Japan-held Senkaku Islands are also disputed by China in the East China Sea.
The 96-page report said Beijing is placing emphasis on preparing for potential contingencies in the South and East China seas, noting an October drill named Maneuver 5 in the Philippine Sea. The drill, the report said, was the largest Chinese Navy open-ocean exercise seen to date.
“China’s military investments provide it with a growing ability to project power at increasingly longer ranges,” the report cautioned.
The United States last month charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into American nuclear, metal and solar companies to steal trade secrets, a move that ratcheted up tensions between the world’s top two economies over cyber-espionage.
The Pentagon report renewed warnings over cyberintrusions.
“China is using its . . . capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense program,” it said.
The Pentagon also cited advances in Chinese drone technology. It pointed to a report by the Defense Science Board, which advises the U.S. Defense Department, warning that Beijing’s push “combines unlimited resources with technological awareness that might allow China to match or even outpace U.S. spending on unmanned systems in the future.”
It noted that in September 2013, a “probable” Chinese drone was noted for the first time conducting reconnaissance over the East China Sea. China also unveiled details of four drones under development in 2013, including the Lijian, its first stealth drone, the Pentagon said.