US says China’s growing military might is part of a ‘diverse’ threat to its national security

  • National Intelligence Strategy also identifies Russia and North Korea as risks
  • Earlier US report raises concerns about Beijing’s development of two new stealth bombers, one of which may be able to carry nuclear weapons
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 January, 2019, 9:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2019, 10:08pm

China’s military modernisation is part of a “diverse” new threat to the national security of the United States, Washington said this week, just days after a separate US report raised concerns about Beijing’s development of a new generation of stealth jets.

According to the latest “National Intelligence Strategy” – produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – China’s “continued pursuit of economic and territorial predominance in the Pacific region and beyond remain[s] a concern”.

The modernisation of its military – along with Russia’s expansion and the nuclear challenge posed by North Korea – are among the “ever more diverse” threats facing the US, said the document, which was released on Tuesday.

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The assessment comes at a time of growing military rivalry between the United States and China in the Asia-Pacific region. Tensions have been growing since Beijing launched a programme to upgrade the military capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army and began challenging for regional dominance.

At the heart of that challenge is the PLA Air Force (PLAAF).

The strategy report came after the US Defence Intelligence Agency said last week that the PLAAF was developing two new jets – the Xian H-20 strategic bomber and a tactical bomber, possibly the Xian JH series.

“The PLAAF is developing new medium- and long-range stealth bombers to strike regional and global targets,” the agency said in a report titled “China Military Power”.

“Stealth technology continues to play a key role in the development of these new bombers, which probably will reach initial operational capability no sooner than 2025.”

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China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported earlier that the PLA was developing a new long-distance stealth bomber – identified as the Xian H-20 – which is expected to go into service about 2025.

The aircraft, which the US report said was likely to be able to carry nuclear weapons, is seen as a direct competitor to the US Air Force’s B-2 Spirit.

The US report said also that China was developing a medium-range stealth jet as a next-generation fighter-bomber, which most observers suggested was likely to be from the JH series

Adam Ni, a researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, said the development of a powerful air force was central to China’s military modernisation efforts.

“The PLA has increasingly been called upon to defend and advance Chinese interests abroad, such as the protection of key sea routes, and overseas Chinese communities and investments,” he said.

“In this context, a strong air force is imperative. In a nutshell, a more advanced bomber fleet will enable Beijing to better deter the US in regional interventions by raising the cost and risk for American forces. Such scenarios include Taiwan and the South China Sea,” Ni said.

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Zhang Baohui, a security analyst at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said the new stealth bombers would add an extra dimension to Beijing’s military force.

“China’s [current] offensive capabilities are based on ballistic missiles as it lacks advanced air power,” he said. “[But] ballistic missiles have become less effective due to improvements in missile defence, and the US possesses the most advanced systems in the world.

“It is natural for China to seek stealth bombing capabilities,” he said. “The two stealth bombers, the strategic H-20, and a medium-range bomber, will significantly change the balance of power in the Pacific.”