A senior US intelligence analyst said on Thursday that China's military advantage over Taiwan continues to grow as China pumps money into improving its navy, air force and ground forces and boosts the number of advanced weapons facing its rival across the Taiwan Strait.
China's growing military capability also gives it a better chance to counter the US or another country that might intervene in the event of a war, Mark Cozad, a senior analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Congressional advisory panel in a detailed assessment of China's military strength.
China raised its military budget by nearly 18 percent this year to about US$45 billion -- the biggest increase since 1995. The US Department of Defense says actual Chinese defense spending could be twice as high.
The Chinese navy and air force have been major beneficiaries of the increased money China has funneled into its military, Cozad told the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
China has bought or developed new diesel submarines, destroyers with long-range air defense systems and anti-ship cruise missiles; the air force has invested in advanced fighter aircraft and bombers, he said.
China's military modernization, Cozad said, focuses "on presenting a credible threat to Taiwan and preventing any third party that might intervene on Taiwan's behalf in a crisis."
Chinese officials say they are open about military spending and have increased military exchanges with other countries, including the US. Any outbreak of hostilities could ensnare the US, which is Taiwan's biggest arms supplier and is bound by law to help the nation defend itself.
Cozad said "the most telling sign of China's modernization and the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait" is the huge number of short-range ballistic missiles directly opposite Taiwan that is growing at an average rate of 100 missiles a year. US officials said last year that China had 800 missiles aimed at Taiwan.
Also at Thursday's hearing, Marine General James Cartwright, chief of the US Strategic Command, said China's Jan. 11 destruction of an old weather satellite using a warhead demonstrated its rapid improvement in military technology.
The test was widely criticized as a provocative display of China's growing military capability. Creating more opportunities for the two militaries to discuss their intentions would reduce the chance of future tension, he said.
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