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Pentagon takes an incomplete on report on Chinese military

Your homework is late, Robert Gates! Very late.

So say five Republican senators who sent the secretary of defense a letter today demanding that Gates submit to Congress the annual report on China's military capabilities. That report, mandated under a 2000 law, was due on March 1.

In the Friday letter (PDF), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.) Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Ok.) express concern that political concerns are getting in the way of the report's release.

"It is our understanding that a draft of the report was completed within the DoD several months ago," the letter says, using the acronym for the Department of Defense. "If true," it continues, "the lengthy delay is puzzling. Since the responsibility for this report lies with the DoD alone, we ask for your assurance that White House political appointees at
the National Security Council or other agencies have not been allowed to alter the substance of the report in an effort to avoid the prospect of angering China. The annual report is designed to provide Congress with a candid, objective assessment of the facts. Anything less would risk undermining its very credibility."

The annual report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China has been late before and it's been the source of wrangling as well as agencies and personalities within the government debate about China's capabilities and doctrine. Tardiness has ranged from a few days in 2008 to a July 31 release date in 2003 -- the latest so far. Could this year's report break the record?

(Other China-related reports were delayed this year as well. A Treasury department report was delayed by several months to give China time to announce it would allow the value of its currency to appreciate against the dollar. China made the announcement on June 20 but so far the yuan has hardly budged against the dollar.)

China is in the midst of significant military modernization that is causing concern and even alarm among the U.S. military. Of particular note is China's interest and pursuit of a land-based anti-ship ballistic missile that China might be able to deploy against U.S. aircraft carriers. China is also bolstering its submarine fleet and its cyberwarfare capabilities.

The report also generally focuses on the military balance across the Strait of Taiwan. Under U.S. law, the United States is obligated to provide weapons and other assistance to support the defense of Taiwan. The Obama administration enraged China in January when it announced the sale of $6.4 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan -- including Blackhawk helicopters and Patriot anti-missile systems. Taiwan is also seeking to purchase F-16 C/D fighters. Cornyn is a strong backer of those sales. Much of the manufacturing takes place around Forth Worth, Tx.

By John Pomfret  | July 23, 2010; 4:15 PM ET
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