A major new Pentagon report on the Chinese military says China is on track to build a modern military by 2020 and that despite improvements in relations across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan remains the principal focus of the Chinese military.
Fueled by its booming economy, China’s military growth in the past decade has exceeded most US forecasts.
Its aircraft carrier program, cyber warfare capabilities and anti-satellite missiles have alarmed neighbors and Washington, the long-delayed comprehensive 84-page report says.
While the report contains nothing that is startlingly new, it is dominated by references to Taiwan. And it comes just weeks before the administration of US President Barack Obama has promised to provide an answer to Taipei’s request to buy 66 advanced F-16C/D aircraft.
This potential arms sale is not mentioned, but without actually spelling it out the study makes it abundantly clear that Taiwan is in desperate need of new weapons.
Titled Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011, the annual report to Congress from the US Department of Defense makes chilling reading.
The Obama administration continues to deny that a decision has yet been made on whether or not to sell the F-16s, but unofficial sources in both Taipei and Washington are signaling that Obama will bow to Chinese pressure and not allow the sale. Instead, he seems likely to offer to modernize Taiwan’s dated F-16A/B aircraft — a move that is less objectionable to Beijing.
China’s rise as a major international actor will stand out as a defining feature of the strategic landscape of the early 21st century, the report says.
And China’s modernized military could be used in ways that increase Beijing’s ability to gain diplomatic advantage or resolve disputes in its favor, the report says.
Nowhere is that more the case, the report makes obvious, than in Beijing’s dealings with Taiwan.
“The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] seeks the capability to deter Taiwan independence and influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms,” it says.
“In pursuit of this objective, Beijing is developing capabilities intended to deter, delay, or deny possible US support for the island in the event of conflict,” it says.
“The balance of cross-Strait military forces and capabilities continues to shift in the mainland’s [China’s] favor,” it says.
Despite the warming cross-strait ties under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the report says, China has continued to build its forces in a way that threatens Taiwan.
“In the current decade to 2020, the PLA is likely to steadily expand its military options for Taiwan,” it says.
“Consistent with a near-term focus on preparing for Taiwan Strait contingencies, China continues to base many of its most advanced systems in the military regions opposite Taiwan,” it says.
On top of the huge numbers of ballistic and cruise missiles aimed at Taiwan, the report says China bases 490 combat aircraft within operational range of Taiwan and has the airfield capacity to expand that number by hundreds, as well as about 400,000 of its 1.25 million soldiers based in three military regions opposite Taiwan.
“The possibility of a military conflict with Taiwan, including US military intervention, remains a pressing, long-term focus for the PLA,” the report says.