Scholars say China unlikely to ever satisfy US wishes on greater military transparency

BEIJING (AP) — Beijing is unlikely to ever satisfy Washington's hopes for greater military transparency, and tensions between their armed forces will remain, Chinese scholars said Tuesday.

They spoke after the publication of an annual Pentagon report this week that said China is pursuing its goal of becoming a major military power in a secretive manner that "increases the potential for misunderstanding" and conflict with other nations.

Beijing-based scholars said the People's Liberation Army has sought to be more open but will continue to adhere to a different standard of transparency.

"Although China has steadily increased its military transparency over the past few years, it's currently impossible for China to reach the level that the U.S. demands," said Shi Yinhong, an expert on the U.S. at Renmin University.

Long shrouded in secrecy, the PLA has in recent years issued its own reports on its makeup and mission and engaged with the armed forces of other nations through port visits, peacekeeping missions, and joint drills. Diplomats say they hope that will help calm fears over the motivations behind its military buildup.

However, top officers are believed to highly doubt the foreign policy benefits of greater transparency, especially with the United States, considered by Beijing its greatest rival.

There was no immediate comment on the Pentagon report from China's Foreign Ministry or the Ministry of National Defense, which manages the 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army.

The report's release comes amid deep dissatisfaction in Beijing over U.S.-South Korea joint naval drills in the Yellow Sea. China was also upset by statements last month by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton seen as unwelcome interference in the territorial dispute between China and Southeast Asia nations over the South China Sea.

In January, Beijing suspended contacts with the U.S. military as retaliation for a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, the self-governing island China claims as its own territory.

The combination of issues has led to an "unprecedented surge" in tensions, although the advantage the U.S. has in military capability means the potential for actual conflict is low, said Zhu Feng of Peking University's School of International Studies.

"The Pentagon is fully aware that there's a huge gap between the two countries' military power. It is a joke to claim that China is going to attack American aircraft carriers," Zhu said.

The Pentagon report said China was developing a ballistic missile capable of attacking aircraft carriers more than 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) away. It did not indicate how close Beijing was to mastering the technology involved. While final testing of the missile is believed to be a year or two away, some experts say it would take a decade more to attain accuracy.

The report also said China could start construction of its first aircraft carrier by the end of the year and had begun a program to train 50 pilots to operate fixed-wing aircraft from an aircraft carrier. Experts say China appears to be building land-based mock-ups of a carrier flight deck and is also sending pilots to Russia for training.

Regarding Taiwan, which China has vowed to take by force if necessary, the report said the balance of forces was continuing to shift in Beijing's favor. U.S. law requires Washington to help ensure the island's defense.

"The PLA is developing the capability to deter Taiwan independence or influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing's terms while simultaneously attempting to deter, delay, or deny any possible U.S. support for the island in case of conflict," the report said.

Taiwan's Defense Ministry responded with a renewed call for the U.S. to sell the island F-16 C/D fighter jets and diesel submarines, two systems which have been at the top of its military wish list for most of this decade.

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Associated Press researcher Zhao Liang contributed to this report.