China's state news agency on Thursday blasted a Pentagon report on the Chinese military as a smear that exaggerates the threat Beijing poses to the region.
In an English-language commentary, the Xinhua News Agency said Washington was engaged in scaremongering, and reasserted China's claim that its military posture is entirely defensive.
The Pentagon "once again trumped up the notion of 'China threat,'" the commentary said.
"China, which has adhered to a defensive military policy, with its rising economic clout and sprawling commercial and strategic interests around the world, has every right to build a competent military," it said.
Chinese diplomats and the Defense Ministry have not yet issued an official response to the report.
The Pentagon's annual assessment of China's military capabilities and doctrine says Beijing is on track to achieve its goal of building a modern, regionally focused military by 2020, citing the development of a new stealth fighter, an aircraft carrier and a record number of space launches over the past year.
Beijing, it says, has closed critical technological gaps and is rapidly modernizing its military equipment, all with an eye toward preventing possible U.S. and allied intervention in a conflict with Taiwan. It also warns that the military expansion could increasingly stretch to the western Pacific in a move to deny U.S. and its allies access or movement there.
The Pentagon estimates that China spent more than $160 billion for its military in 2010. U.S. defense spending for that year was about $550 billion, not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. defense officials have repeatedly called for China to be more transparent about its intentions in the military buildup, but the report also notes that Beijing continues to profess that the growth is peaceful.
The long-delayed Pentagon report comes as the sides struggle to restore relations between their militaries amid tensions over American support for Taiwan, cyberattacks blamed on China and Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea.
In 2010, the report said, a number of computer systems, including U.S. networks, were the target of intrusions that appeared to originate in China. The breaches were aimed at stealing data, but they exhibit the same skills needed for more destructive network attacks, it said.