The annual Pentagon report on Chinese military capabilities "sounds [the] alarm," writes The Wall Street Journal. The report mentions cyber-attacks, buildup aimed at Taiwan, and efforts being poured into missile and naval programs in the Pacific. "Some experts say [a new anti-ship ballistic missile] could herald the end of U.S. naval domination." But is it really as bad as all that? What's really going on in China? Here are a few competing takes on the report.

  • Economic Considerations  "What is certain," writes Greg Grant at Defense Tech, is that "China's voracious raw material consumption is forcing the country to focus on securing its sea-lines of communication." He notes, too, that "increases in Chinese military spending have closely tracked China's GDP growth." That means that, "unlike the Cold War era Soviet Union, China is not bankrupting itself through huge defense expenditures."
  • 'Alarming Rhetoric,' Perhaps Overdone, concludes The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss, looking at the report. Regarding the hype over the potential naval challenge, he mentions the same considerations as Greg Grant: "Given that China is, by the Pentagon's own admission, vulnerable to losing its energy lifeline because of external disruption, you'd think that the Defense Department would acknowledge China's legitimate interest in securing those supplies." He's skeptical about the alarmism in general:
The facts are unavoidable: China spends only a tiny fraction of what the United States spends on its armed forces. China has little or no real ability to project its power abroad, yet. And, unlike the United States and NATO, China has attacked no one, at least not since border skirmishes with India in 1962 and Vietnam in 1979.
  • 'What Is Surprising,' writes Dean Cheng at The Heritage Foundation, "is how little [in the report] ... is actually surprising." Among the already-known concerns, he notes, is that "This is not an army that will rely on human wave attacks; it is one that is working on anti-ship ballistic missiles, electronic and information warfare, and space combat capabilities." The surprise here appears to be that "we are no longer surprised" by "burgeoning" Chinese "reach." He, unlike Dreyfuss, does see cause for alarm: "The question, in this context, is no longer: 'What will China do?' China clearly will continue to expand its military as it sees fit. Instead, the question is: 'What will the United States do?'"
  • Let's Not Test China  Mark Helprin, in an unrelated Wall Street Journal op-ed on Hillary Clinton's hard diplomacy in the South China Sea, points out that though China's military may be smaller, it has numerous strategic advantages in its own region--largely "the force-multiplying proximity of its land-based air and naval power." To add to that, "China fought us to a draw in Korea more than half a century ago. In Vietnam we stayed our hand for fear of drawing it into the battle." He'd prefer diplomats steer clear of "paper-tigerism"--China just might call the bluff.