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China is developing impressive high-tech military capabilities, according to analysis given to an American congressional commission. And, unsportingly, the inscrutable communists refuse to tell anyone what they're up to.

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission heard testimony from a variety of officials and analysts yesterday, covering such areas as "irregular forms of warfare", "modernisation of the People's Liberation Army", and the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait. Today the panel will move on to look at "Information Warfare, Missile Warfare, Cyber Operations", and the Chinese forces' objectives in space.

US airforce general James Cartwright said China's recent successful test of a satellite-killing missile had come impressively quickly, and "should be a wake-up call". The sat-buster was only one weapon in China's space arsenal, he said.

Cartwright also told the commission that the Chinese forces had a well-organised cyber-warfare programme, to which they were firmly committed.

"It will pay off," he said. "Other nations are doing likewise, but I do not believe any have demonstrated the scale or the financial commitment to move in the direction that China has."

Other analysts disagreed over China's future military plans. William Schneider of the conservative-leaning Hudson Institute characterised the ongoing conventional buildup by the People's Republic as "consistent with global aspirations" and "excessive in relation to China's regional security needs". He also complained of communist secretiveness, saying that "China has not responded to requests for greater transparency".

But others cast doubt on the idea that the Chinese are bent on world domination. According to Andrew Erickson of the US Naval War College, Beijing is focused more on dominating Taiwan. The island state is effectively independent of mainland China, but the People's Republic has always claimed sovereignty over it.

"There is little evidence to show that the People's Liberation Army (Navy) is developing the capabilities necessary to extend its ability to project power much beyond China's claimed territorial waters," according to Erickson. He thought the PLA(N) would like to be able to prevent US carrier fleets from intervening in any dispute with the Taiwanese, but doesn't yet aspire to challenge American control of the world's oceans.

The hearings continue. ®

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