CIA chief Michael Hayden charged on Wednesday that China was beefing up its military with “remarkable speed and scope,” calling the buildup “troubling.”
The Chinese, he said, had fully absorbed the lessons of both Gulf wars, developing and integrating advanced weaponry into a modern military force.
Hayden said while Beijing’s new capabilities could pose a risk to US forces and interests in the region, the military modernization was as much about projecting strength as anything else.
“After two centuries of perceived Western hegemony, China is determined to flex its muscle,” he said in a speech at Kansas State University. “It sees an advanced military force as an essential element of great power status.”
But it is the intelligence community’s view that any Chinese regime, even a democratic one, will have similar national goals, said Hayden, once the highest-ranking military intelligence officer in the armed forces.
“Don’t misunderstand. The military buildup is troubling because it reinforces long-held concerns about Chinese intentions towards Taiwan,” he said.
“But even without that issue, we assess the buildup would continue — albeit one that might look somewhat different,” he said.
Hayden said even though China was a competitor in the economic realm and increasingly on the geopolitical stage, it was “not an inevitable enemy.”
“There are good policy choices available to both Washington and Beijing that can keep us on the largely peaceful, constructive path we’ve been on for almost 40 years now,” he said.
A Pentagon report said this year that China had boosted total military spending last year to more than twice its declared budget.
The report raised concern over China’s expanding military power, including its development of cruise and ballistic missiles capable of striking aircraft carriers and other warships at sea, anti-satellite weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
China dismissed the Pentagon report as an exaggeration, made in order to justify US sales of military hardware to Taiwan.
The Pentagon estimated China’s total military spending last year at between US$97 billion and US$139 billion, more than double China’s declared budget of US$45 billion.