China’s nuclear bombers spark Pentagon report backlash

BEIJING, 20 AUGUST 2018 (AFP) – China has rejected what it called an “irresponsible” Pentagon report claiming Beijing’s bombers are likely training for strikes against US and allied targets in the Pacific.

The report, issued late last week, said China was leveraging its growing military, economic and diplomatic clout to rapidly establish regional dominance, while its bombers were developing capabilities to hit targets as far from the Chinese mainland as possible.

China is engaged in a decades-long build-up and modernisation of its once-backward armed forces, and military leaders have set a goal of fielding a world-class force by 2050.

The Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, released by the US Department of Defence, states China is now “willing to employ coercive measures — both military and non-military — to advance its interests and mitigate opposition from other countries.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang rejected this as “presumptuous and irresponsible”, stating it was “in total disregard of facts”. Beijing’s military development was defensive in nature and intended to safeguard its territorial integrity, he added.

“We urge the US side to abandon the outdated cold-war and zero-sum mentality … (and) stop issuing such irresponsible reports year after year,” he said. “We also request that the US stops releasing the related reports and safeguards the stable development of the two countries’ military with real actions.”

The Pentagon believes the People’s Liberaby Army Air Force (PLAAF) is seeking to demonstrate its “capability to strike US and allied forces and military bases in the western Pacific Ocean, including Guam.”

The reports China began its long-range bomber flights in 2013. It has since push out further into the Pacific Ocean, encircled the island nation of Taiwan, loitered off Japan and Korea — and penetrated as far as the US central Pacific island of Guam.

Last year, six Chinese H-6K bombers flew through the Miyako Strait in the southwest of the Japanese islands, and then for the first time turned north to fly east of Okinawa, where 47,000 US troops are based.

This year, H-6K bombers conducted touch-and-go training exercises on the illegal island fortresses built up in the South China Sea’s disputed reefs.

“Over the last three years, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has rapidly expanded its overwater bomber operating areas, gaining experience in critical maritime regions and likely training for strikes against US and allied targets,” the report reads.

It also expresses concern that Beijing is extending its nuclear ‘umbrella’ over the annexed South China Sea.

“The PLA has long been developing air strike capabilities to engage targets as far away from China as possible,” the Pentagon report says. “(The bombers) could, if deployed to airfields in the Spratly Islands, extend their range through the Balabac Strait into the Celebes Sea or through the Sunday or Malacca Strait to fly into the Indian Ocean.

“The deployment and integration of nuclear capable bombers would, for the first time, provide China with a nuclear ‘triad’ of delivery systems dispersed across land, sea, and air,” the report reads.

Beijing says the Pentagon’s report reveals more about the US than it does China.

“The PLA will surely develop its air force with long-range strike capability,” a weekend state-run Global Times editorial reads. “The Pentagon suspects that the PLA is training for strikes against US bases in the Pacific region. It shows that the US bases in the region are very likely training for actions against the Chinese mainland and are worried that the bases will face retaliation during wartime.”

Despite repeatedly raised concerns about its bomber and fighter activity near Taiwan, Philippines, Korea and Japan in recent years — the editorial asserts: “There are many other countries and targets within the radius of Chinese air force’s long-range operations, but none of them show signs of worry. Why is it that only the US bases in the Pacific are worried about PLA’s potential threat? The US’ guilty conscience is self-evident.”

Beijing said it was not concerned at the Pentagon’s assessment of its capabilities. Instead, it was the profiling of China as a threat.

“The US’ technical analysis of the PLA capability is one thing, the Pentagon’s publication of the analysis to hype the “China threat” is another … When the US appears so bold to hype the threat, it proves Washington has totally lost its moral high ground and conscience.”