HONG KONG—China's defense ministry has hit out at a recent report on its military expansion by the Pentagon, which accuses Beijing of a secretive build-up of military power and calls on the ruling Communist Party to boost transparency.
A ministry spokesman said the report, which comes after Beijing recently suspended cooperation with the U.S. military, is "not beneficial to the improvement and development of Sino-U.S. military ties."
The Pentagon report said Beijing is upgrading its hefty arsenal of land-based missiles, modernizing its nuclear forces, and expanding its fleet of attack submarines.
Chinese defense ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said the report criticized "normal national defense and military build-up" and exaggerated China's threat to Taiwan, which has been governed separately from the mainland since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.
"China's military development is reasonable and appropriate," Geng said. "[It] is aimed at protecting its national sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity, as well as keeping pace with rapid military development in the rest of the world."
Decades of harsh diplomatic rhetoric and military exercises over issues like the South China Sea's disputed Spratly and Paracel Island chains, and the future of Taiwan, have helped to create fear and tension among China's smaller neighbors, analysts say.
And Chinese official rhetoric has grown increasingly harsh in the wake of U.S. diplomatic and military forays in the region.
The Pentagon report said that China now has as many as 1,150 short-range ballistic missiles and is acquiring an unknown number of medium-range missiles.
Beijing is also developing artillery systems with the ability to strike across the Taiwan Strait, the report said.
The Defense Department's annual assessment comes after months of strained diplomatic ties between Beijing and Washington, during which China rejected the results of an investigation blaming North Korea for the sinking of a South Korean warship.
Few details available
Experts say China has been pouring billions of dollars into offensive and defensive military capabilities, but with very few details of either its budget or its strategy available outside military circles.
"China has never had transparency," said Winston Yang, a Chinese military analyst and retired Seton Hall University professor.
"One-party rule is an inherently opaque political system, especially in an area as sensitive as military affairs," he said.
He said Beijing has also tried to keep a low profile in order to soothe tensions among its smaller neighbors and avoid pushing them too close to the United States.
Rouben Azizian, Far East and Central Asia expert at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, said smaller countries in Southeast Asia are now wondering how to deal with a stronger, brasher China.
"With recent events in the South China Sea, more and more countries are starting to have concerns about China's military power and attitude," he said.
Both China and the U.S. have launched military exercises in the South China Sea and Yellow Sea in recent weeks.
"If Chinese diplomats have eyes, they can see that more and more of China's neighbors are seeking support from the U.S., because they don't believe that China's intentions in its massive military expansion are peaceful," Azizian said.
"If China wants to change this situation, it needs to step up transparency in its military affairs."
China has been dismissive of U.S. accusations that the growth and modernization of its military poses a threat.
U.S. officials say China could do more to promote stability in its region and join Western nations in blocking Iran and North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Xi Wang. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.