CIA director Leon Panetta, who has been nominated to succeed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said China appears to be building the capability “to fight and win short-duration, high-intensity conflicts” along its borders.
“Its near-term focus appears to be on preparing for potential contingencies involving Taiwan, including possible U.S. military intervention,” Panetta said in a 79-page set of answers to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee in advance of his confirmation hearing, scheduled for June 9.
China’s efforts to modernize its military “emphasize anti-access and area capabilities,” Panetta said in his written answers. China also is modernizing its nuclear forces and improving its space and counter-space operations as well as its computer network operations, Panetta said.
In addition, China is expanding its missions to include humanitarian assistance, non-combat evacuation operations, and counter-piracy support, according to Panetta.
The U.S. should continue to “monitor closely” the growth of China’s military capabilities while designing a strategy “to preserve peace, enhance stability, and reduce risk in the region,” Panetta said.
“The complexity of the security environment, both in the Asia-Pacific region and globally, calls for a continuous dialogue between the armed forces of the United States and China to expand practical cooperation where we can and to discuss candidly those areas where we differ,” Panetta said.
Addressing potential future conflicts around the world, Panetta said that the Pentagon “must be prepared” to confront potential adversaries armed with air defense systems, long-range ballistic missiles, and anti-ship cruise missiles.
“Given the importance of power projection for U.S. operations, naval and air assets will undoubtedly play a key role in these future military engagements,” Panetta said.
Ground forces will have to be able to protect against possible adversaries with precision-guided anti-tank weapons, man-portable air defense systems, and precision-guided rockets, artillery and mortars, he said.
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who leads the Armed Services Committee, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the panel, said in separate interviews that Panetta’s path to Senate confirmation should be smooth.
“I expect him to do a good job and I am sure he will,” McCain said, adding that he also expected Panetta to find savings in the defense budget “wherever he can.”
Gates met June 3 with his Chinese counterpart, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, at the annual IISS Asia Security Summit and told him that the two countries should seek to improve military relations that lag behind their economic ties.
China “never intends to threaten any nation,” Liang told regional officials attending the forum. China’s improved military capabilities fall “within the legitimate need of its self defense” he said.
China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has objected to arms sales under U.S. security commitments to the island.