China formally protested over a Pentagon report on the Chinese military Friday, calling it a major distortion that flew in the face of a warming trend in relations between the two nations and their militaries.
The United States' annual assessment of China's military capabilities and doctrine "seriously twists the facts and doesn't have a leg to stand on," the Defense Ministry said in a statement read on national television.
The Pentagon report issued Wednesday said 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.
China's response accused the U.S. of spreading illegitimate concerns about a Chinese threat to regional security and of ignoring China's insistence that its military posture is purely defensive. Beijing said its military developments are a natural outgrowth of technological advances and not directed at any third parties, but didn't point to any specific claims in the report.
China has made "stern representations" to the U.S. side, it said, adding that the report's negative tenor was out of step with improvements in China's relations with Taiwan, the self-governing U.S. ally that Beijing has sworn to bring under its control by force if necessary.
"The Chinese side expresses our strong dissatisfaction and a resolute opposition to this," said the statement, attributed to ministry spokesman Yang Yujun.
Despite the government's pique, it seemed unlikely that the report would disrupt relations in any significant way.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden this week concluded a cordial visit to China and both sides are looking forward to a reciprocal visit by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, President Hu Jintao's heir-apparent, before the end of the year.
Further military-to-military exchanges are also planned, although an upcoming U.S. decision on whether to upgrade warplanes owned by Taiwan or sell the island new ones could increase frictions. Beijing suspended military contacts last year in anger over the announcement of a U.S. deal to sell Taiwan $6.4 billion in new helicopters, anti-missile defense systems and other armaments.
The Pentagon report said China 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.