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July 20, 2005—A day after a hotly anticipated Pentagon report to Congress on China’s military strength was released, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, recently confirmed for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, downplayed China’s strategic threat to US interests—despite concerns raised in the report.

The Pentagon released its annual report on China’s military to Congress July 19. Senior Pentagon officials dubbed the tone of analysis deliberately “non-alarmist,” but they said some findings are “worrisome.” They cited in particular, the speed and amount being invested by China in the buildup of its armed forces.

According to the report, China’s military spending is currently the world’s third largest, behind the US and Russia. The report details the country’s efforts to expand and increase its nuclear arsenal and naval forces.

However, at a July 20 Pentagon news briefing, Rumsfeld reminded reporters that the United States’ policy on Taiwan and China has not changed in years. “It is what it is,” he said, adding that any changes in the relationship between Taiwan and China should be made “on a peaceful basis, by both countries.” He said that judging from the events over time in the Straits of Taiwan, things appear to be headed in a non-confrontational direction. 

“I don’t think speculating … is very useful,” Rumsfeld responded when asked if the US could meet a strategic challenge in a confrontation involving China and Taiwan.  “Certainly our country is capable … of doing the things we’re capable of doing,” he said.

Pace elaborated somewhat, offering his definition of a military threat. “You judge military threat in two ways:” by capacity and intent to wage war.  “[There are] lots of countries in the world that have the capacity to wage war but very few have the intent to do so,” he said.

Pace emphasized that the US clearly has a “complex, but good” relationship with China. He does not feel there is reason to believe China has an intent to initiate a conflict with American forces.