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Oz feels Chinese military poses "credible" threat: Leaked cable

Oz`s intelligence agencies believe China poses a "credible threat" to militaries in the region.



Melbourne: Australia`s intelligence agencies
believe China already poses a "credible threat" to militaries
in the region and its armed force will present an even more
"formidable challenge" as its modernisation continues, says a
leaked US diplomatic cable.

A strategic assessment by the Australian intelligence
agencies found that China`s military spending for 2006 was 90
billion dollars -- double the 45 billion dollars announced
publicly by Beijing, The Sydney Morning Herald reported today,
quoting the American diplomatic cable released by the
whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.

Australia`s top intelligence agency, the Office of
National Assessments, as well as the Defence Intelligence
Organisation and the Defence and Foreign Affairs departments
concluded that China was building a military capability well
beyond its priorities of self-defence and preventing Taiwan`s
independence, the paper said.

"China`s longer-term agenda is to develop `comprehensive
national power`, including a strong military, that is in
keeping with its view of itself as a great power," says a copy
of the secret assessment provided by Australian Foreign
Affairs officials to the US embassy in Canberra.

"We agree that the trend of China`s military
modernisation is beyond the scope of what would be required
for a conflict over Taiwan," it says.

China views Taiwan as a rebel province that should be
reunified with the mainland, even by force.

"Arguably China already poses a credible threat to modern
militaries operating in the region and will present an even
more formidable challenge as its modernisation continues," the
Australian assessment says.

Details of the 2006 intelligence assessment are contained
in a US embassy cable obtained by WikiLeaks and provided
exclusively to the Herald, the paper said.

The Australian document goes on to warn that the pace of
China`s military build-up and "the opacity of Beijing`s
intentions and programmes" was "already altering the balance
of power in Asia and could be a destabilising influence."

"There is the potential for possible misconceptions which
could lead to a serious miscalculation or crisis," it says.

The Australian intelligence agencies suggest China could
overestimate its own capabilities with a significant risk of
strategic miscalculation and instability.

"The nature of the (Chinese People`s Liberation Army) and
the regime means that transparency will continue to be viewed
as a potential vulnerability. This contributes to the
likelihood of strategic misperceptions," the document says.

"The rapid improvements in PLA capabilities, coupled with
a lack of operational experience and faith in asymmetric
strategies, could lead to China overestimating its military
capability.

"These factors, coupled with rising nationalism,
heightened expectations of China`s status, China`s historical
predilection for strategic deception, difficulties with Japan,
and the Taiwan issue mean that miscalculations and minor
events could quickly escalate," the document warns.

Although successive Australian governments have called
on China to be more transparent about its military spending,
ministers and diplomats have studiously avoided public
reference to the scale of the discrepancy between Beijing`s
published figures and the likely reality behind the scenes,
the Herald says.

The Australian estimate of a 2006 military budget of USD
70 billion (90 billion Australian dollars at the September
2006 exchange rate), has not been revealed previously - though
it is consistent with academic and published US government
estimates of China`s growing military spending, it says.

The secret Australian assessment is also much sharper
than the language later employed in the then Prime Minister
Kevin Rudd-led government`s 2009 Defence White Paper, which
said China was on the way to becoming Asia`s strongest
military power "by a considerable margin" and warned that the
pace and scope of its growth could give its neighbours cause
for concern if not properly explained.

The Rudd government publicly played down reports of a
hostile Chinese reaction to the White Paper when it was
published, but secretly briefed the US that Beijing had
threatened that Australia would "suffer the consequences" if
references to China`s growing military capabilities were not
watered down.

The Australian Defence Chief, Air Chief Marshal Angus
Houston, and the then Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon,
insisted that China had no problem with the white paper.

But other leaked US embassy cables report that the then
deputy secretary for Defence, Mike Pezzullo, briefed US
diplomats that he had been "dressed down" by Chinese officials
who had a "look of cold fury" at the references to China in
the White Paper.

PTI

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