China has attacked Washington's "cold war mentality" after a Pentagon report focused on Beijing's ambitions in the South China Sea, its plans to open military bases in countries such as Pakistan, and its deployment of rockets able to deliver nuclear warheads to the western Pacific.
“China most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a long-standing friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries,” the Pentagon said in a 106-page report.
The report, which was released on Tuesday, estimated that China spent $180 billion (€160.24 billion) in 2016 on its defence, far higher than the official figure of $144.3 billion (€128.5 billion).
China reacted angrily to the department of defence assessment saying it “firmly opposed” the report which disregarded facts and made “irresponsible remarks”.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing that China was a force for safeguarding peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the world. China is currently constructing its first overseas base in Djibouti.
On the subject of Pakistan, Ms Hua said she would not comment on conjecture. “But I would like to stress that as neighbours with traditional friendship, China and Pakistan have conducted broad co-operation in various fields for win-win results and mutual benefits for a long time. The China-Pakistan friendly co-operation does not target any third party and conforms to each other’s international commitments,” she said.
China has been growing closer to Pakistan as part of its Belt and Road regional infrastructure project, much to the annoyance of India.
China has the world's biggest military and the second-biggest defence spender, after the United States. The People's Liberation Army is currently being modernised, and is focusing on building up its naval strengths, which analysts believe is meant to protect its interests in the South China Sea, where it has territorial disputes with most of its neighbours.
President Xi, who is also head of the Central Military Commission, has made several key changes to the PLA, including the introduction of a designated rocket force on equal par with the navy, army and air force, and he has ordered the construction of a domestic aircraft carrier, bringing the fleet of aircraft carriers to two.
The report pointed out that in 2016 China began fielding the Dongfeng-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which is capable of conducting conventional and nuclear precision strikes against ground targets and conventional strikes against naval targets in the western Pacific Ocean.
The report also noted that the launch last year of the first experimental quantum communications satellite marked “a notable advance in cryptography research.