Trying to assure the world of China's peaceful emergence is one of Beijing's biggest challenges. That task has been made more difficult by the country's ever growing military spending and its pledge to use force against Taiwan should the island declare formal independence. To allay foreign concerns about the country's military buildup, the central government yesterday published yet another white paper on national defence - the fifth of its kind since 1998. Compared with the previous four, new content in the latest document should enhance international understanding of the country's defence objectives and the operation of the People's Liberation Army. But it is doubtful if it will succeed in pacifying anxieties about China's military modernisation. Transparency remains a key issue. The white paper tries to show that the country's military spending, which rose 15 per cent in 2006 to 283.8 billion yuan, remains modest by international standards. But analysts are not convinced that the figure tells the full story, and many believe the actual spending may be several times more. Indeed, the white paper contains only ball-park figures but no breakdowns that can be traced or verified. Besides, the budgeted figures are known to exclude ancillary contributions by the army's industrial enterprises and other agencies' spending on research and development with defence implications, including space exploration. The paper represents a reassuring step in so far as it reiterates the country's policy of promoting harmony in the world, not engaging in an arms race, and no first use of nuclear weapons. But China's neighbours are likely to focus more on the country's declared objectives of strengthening its navy and air force, and enhancing its capabilities in information warfare. In particular, the possibility of hostilities breaking out between the mainland and Taiwan is being closely watched. That is especially because the pro-independence administration of Chen Shui-bian in Taipei is expected to make more daring attempts to provoke Beijing before he steps down as the island's president in 2008. China shares a long land border with 15 countries and its coastline faces off seven others. While that might seem a justification to maintain a sizeable military force, the PLA, however capable, would have a hard time defending the country if it had to fight on several fronts at the same time. What is important is that it remains relatively weak and is not throwing its weight around. Above all, Beijing has gone out of its way to maintain good ties with neighbours. For China's detractors, even further disclosure of its defence spending is unlikely to alleviate their concerns about the country's military modernisation. But that should not stop Beijing from making further efforts to come clean, as secrecy only breeds unwarranted suspicions.