Two annual reports released last month — one from the U.S. Department of Defense and the other from the U.S.-China Security Review Commission, a congressional panel — express serious concern about China’s military buildup and economic development. Such a perception does not sit well with the Japanese thinking that tends to define Japan-China relations largely in terms of “past problems” — acts of aggression committed by the Japanese military during World War II. However, Japan cannot remain indifferent to America’s growing apprehensions about China’s future.

The rise of China, touted as a “superpower of the 21st century,” is also a grave concern to Japan. An objective analysis of its military and economic potential is essential. It is particularly important for Japan to explore avenues to peace in East Asia through Chinese military restraint and disarmament.

The U.S. reports help in making such an analysis. The Pentagon report focuses on China’s rapidly expanding military power, just as its Cold War-era reports concentrated on Soviet military strength. Saying that Beijing is bolstering its military behind the scenes, the study puts Chinese defense spending at $65 billion, more than three times the published official figure. The sum is expected to rise three or four times by 2020.

The document says China’s defense strategy is based on a doctrine of first strike and surprise attack. This has dire implications for Taiwan. According to the Pentagon, should China launch a military offensive across the Taiwan Strait, it would stage a surprise attack or some other form of covert strike to bring the island republic quickly to its knees in the early stages of the operation.

Meanwhile, the Chinese buildup of intercontinental ballistic missiles is seen as a direct security threat to America. The report says China is expected to have 60 ICBMs by 2010, three times more than it has now. Currently the Chinese are believed to be developing new types of missiles with a longer range.

Moreover, the number of short-range ballistic missiles, now estimated at 350, is expected to increase at the rate of 50 a year. The Pentagon reports China is developing new types of SRBMs, which, if deployed in forward positions, will be capable of hitting targets in Okinawa.

The report from the U.S.-China Security Review Commission looks at Chinese behavior from a broader perspective, including economic activity. Based on a multisided analysis of the “Chinese threat,” the panel calls for a review of Sino-American relations.

The study brushes aside as a mere “hypothesis” the view that political and social openness and democracy in China will progress as the country moves toward a free-market economy and the rule of law. From this point of view, the panel concludes that it is a mistake for the U.S. to pursue a policy of engagement with China.

More specifically, the commission states that China is modernizing its munitions industry through technology imports financed by its huge foreign exchange reserves, the result of its enormous trade surpluses. In addition, state-owned Chinese enterprises affiliated with the military and intelligence agency are suspected of engaging in capital and securities transactions in America and playing a part in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, it accuses Beijing of supplying some of these weapons to states that sponsor terrorism.

The commission, created by Congress about two years ago to determine whether U.S. economic exchanges with China would jeopardize U.S. security, is composed of 12 members recommended by Democratic and Republican leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was set up following a “nuclear spying scandal” in which China was accused of stealing U.S. nuclear secrets.

As a diplomat in Washington puts it, the panel is effectively a group of “anti-China hawks” that includes Republican conservatives, Democratic liberals pushing for human rights and retired congressional staffers. Interestingly, the panel also includes the person who pursued an illegal technology sale by a Japanese company to the former Soviet Union in the 1980s and who opposed a Japan-U.S. joint project to develop the next-generation fighter.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official has reacted strongly to the U.S. reports, saying the portrayal of China as a “threat” is groundless and that China is not engaged in the arms race. A British newspaper has said China is not a reincarnation of the Soviet Union. The U.S. administration itself, giving top priority to the antiterror campaign, appears anxious, for now at least, to strengthen ties with Beijing. Nevertheless, China’s rapid military buildup is a fact. It is not in the interest of peace in East Asia.

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