China's recent success at destroying a satellite in low-Earth orbit is a threat to the interests of all space-faring nations and posed dangers to human space flight, the Pentagon said Friday.
In its annual report on Chinese military developments, the Pentagon also said the People's Liberation Army is building a greater capacity to launch pre-emptive strikes. It cited as examples China's acquisition of long-endurance submarines, unmanned combat aircraft and additional precision-guided air-to-ground missiles.
Attempting to capture the essence of China's strategy, the report quoted former supreme leader Deng Xiaoping's guidance, known as the 24-character maxim, which says in part, "hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile."
"It suggests both a short-term desire to downplay China's capabilities and avoid confrontation, and a long-term strategy to build up China's power to maximize options for the future," the Pentagon report said.
Peter Rodman, who until early this year was the Pentagon's top Asia policy official, said in an interview Friday that there is reason for concern that China's long-range aim is to "revise the existing balance of power in the world, but they are patient and they are just doing this quietly; they think long term."
Rodman added that because U.S. officials are carefully and closely monitoring China's growing military strength and sophistication, "We can handle this, we're no slouches ourselves at maintaining our capability." Rodman is now a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
The report said China's near-term focus is on preparing for a military crisis in the Taiwan Strait, where it continues to emplace more short-range ballistic missiles.
"However, analysis of China's military acquisitions and strategic thinking suggests Beijing is also generating capabilities for other regional contingencies, such as conflict over resources or territory," the report said.
Chinese military training that focuses on no-notice, long-range air strikes "could also indicate planning for pre-emptive military options in advance of regional crises," the report said.
The Pentagon highlighted its concern about Beijing's anti-satellite test in which a missile was used to destroy one of China's old weather satellites in low-Earth polar orbit; the January test was China's first.
"The test put at risk the assets of all space-faring nations and posed dangers to human space flight due to the creation of an unprecedented amount of debris," the report said, adding that this is an important expansion of China's pursuit of weaponry and strategies that are designed to deny U.S. forces access to areas in Asia.
The report was presented to Congress on Friday.
In previewing its release, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters on Thursday that some of China's new capabilities are of concern to the United States but he did not provide details.
"We wish that there were greater transparency, that they would talk more about what their intentions are, what their strategies are," Gates said. "It would be nice to hear firsthand from the Chinese how they view some of these things."