TOKYO -- China will likely seek to open more military bases in countries with which it has a "friendly relationship and similar strategic interests," such as Pakistan, the Pentagon said in its annual report to Congress.
China is leveraging its growing power to assert influence worldwide. In February 2016, it began building a military base in Djibouti, not far from Camp Lemonnier, a U.S. military facility. The African nation is strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, on the route to the Suez Canal, and the Pentagon believes the Chinese base "could be completed within the next year."
It added that with China "expanding its access to foreign ports to pre-position the necessary logistics support to regularize and sustain deployments in the 'far seas,'" the country will most likely pursue opportunities to build bases elsewhere. It named Pakistan as one potential location.
The South Asian country is already a major destination for Chinese arms, the report said. "A more robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure would also be essential to enable China to project and sustain military power at greater distances from China," the Pentagon added.
The Pentagon also noted how China in 2016 had focused on infrastructure construction at outposts in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. It said that as of late last year, China was building 24 fighter-sized hangars, fixed-weapons positions, barracks, administration buildings and communications facilities on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs -- three of its largest outposts.
The Pentagon said that "although its land reclamation and artificial islands do not strengthen China's territorial claims as a legal matter or create any new territorial sea entitlements," China will be able to "use its reclaimed features as persistent civil-military bases to enhance its presence in the South China Sea and improve China's ability to control the features and nearby maritime space."
China's ballooning military budget reflects its stepped-up activity. The Pentagon estimated China's total military-related spending for 2016 at more than $180 billion -- higher than Beijing's official figure of 954.35 billion yuan ($146.67 billion).
The military spending is in part fueled by China's determination to develop cyberwarfare capabilities, with the U.S. Department of Defense pointing out that "Chinese military writings describe informatized warfare as an asymmetric way to weaken an adversary's ability to acquire, transmit, process, and use information during war and to force an adversary to capitulate before the onset of conflict."
The Pentagon said computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, "continued to be targeted by China-based intrusions" through 2016.
"China uses its cyber capabilities to support intelligence collection against U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors," the DOD said in the report. "Targeted information could inform People's Liberation Army planners' work to build a picture of U.S. defense networks, logistics, and related military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis."
Chinese leaders, the Pentagon continued, "remain focused on developing the capabilities to deter or defeat adversary power projection and counter third-party intervention -- including by the United States -- during a crisis or conflict."
The DOD pledged to "monitor China's military modernization" and continue to adapt in order to "defend the homeland, deter aggression, protect our allies and partners, and preserve regional peace, prosperity, and freedom."