China‘s military now is capable of a full-scale invasion of Taiwan and has added new missiles and amphibious ships to the People’s Liberation Army for an attack on the island democracy, according to the latest annual report of a congressional China commission.
Additionally, the standoff between China and Taiwan has become unstable because the ability of the U.S. military to deter a Chinese attack is now in a period of “dangerous uncertainty,” the report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission concluded.
China, which insists Taiwan is part of its sovereign territory, also has rapidly increased the number of intermediate-range missiles targeting the self-governing island state from 30 to 200 over the past several years. New amphibious ships have been added to the Chinese navy and civilian vessels are being prepared to move troops across the 100-mile-waterway in a potential future invasion.
The panel noted that a People’s Liberation Army invasion would be a high-risk operation for Beijing, but it would include cyberattacks, missile strikes and a blockade, with an initial invasion force of some 25,000 troops.
“Given these developments, it has become less certain that U.S. conventional military forces alone will continue to deter China‘s leaders from initiating an attack on Taiwan,” the report said.
The growing danger of a war over Taiwan is among the key findings of the 551-page annual report, which also warns that China‘s rapid expansion of nuclear forces has increased the danger of a nuclear war.
Military pressure on the Taiwan government increased sharply and is increasing the potential for a crisis or conflict, the report’s authors warned.
The Chinese military set 2020 as a milestone for building forces to invade Taiwan and spent nearly two decades preparing for the operation.
“The PLA has already achieved the capabilities needed to conduct an air and naval blockade, cyberattacks, and missile strikes against Taiwan,” the report said. “PLA leaders now likely assess they have, or will soon have, the initial capability needed to conduct a high-risk invasion of Taiwan if ordered to do so by [China‘s] leaders.”
According to the report, China had 30 intermediate-range missile launchers in 2018 and by 2020 had increased the number to 200. Medium-range missile launchers increased from 120 to 150 during the same period while short-range launchers fell from 300 to 250.
“The PLA Rocket Force’s mass production of IRBM launchers suggests China may have a larger stockpile of IRBMs than DOD has explicitly stated,” the report said.
One potential trigger for an invasion would be for a Chinese leader to perceive that the American military is not capable of coming to Taiwan‘s defense or if there is a lack of political will on the part of U.S. leaders.
“We found that the Chinese are at or near an initial invasion capability,” said Jim Talent, a former Republican senator from Missouri and one of the 11 commissioners, in a briefing for reporters.
The commission’s warnings about Chinese military capabilities, based on hearings and intelligence briefings, are at odds with statements earlier this year by Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. Milley told Congress in June that China does not yet have the capability to invade Taiwan.
“I think China has a ways to go to develop the actual, no-kidding capability to conduct military operations to seize through military means the entire island of Taiwan if they wanted to do that,” he said.
Gen. Milley came under fire from Republicans in Congress after it was disclosed he had called his Chinese military counterpart and assured him the United States was not planning to attack China and would warn Beijing if it did.
The four-star general said “there is no reason” for China to conduct a military assault.
A spokesman for Gen. Milley said the report does not directly address what the chairman said in his testimony.
By contrast, the commission report said Chinese President Xi Jinping has shown a higher tolerance for risk, and wants to retake Taiwan as part of his legacy. The combination could contribute to a decision to attack Taiwan despite U.S. warnings.
In a special section of the report, the commission concluded that Chinese military doctrine suggests Beijing could carry out preemptive attacks on Taiwan or U.S. forces in the region as part of a campaign to capture the island.
The commission report also reveals divisions within the ruling Chinese Communist Party and the senior leaders, despite Beijing portraying its system as triumphing over the west.
The report said China is engaged in an unprecedented expansion of its nuclear arsenal and moving to become a near-peer to the United States in its nuclear power. The buildup includes hundreds of new silos for long-range missiles, a growing warhead stockpile and improved accuracy of strike weapons.
“These qualitative and quantitative changes to China‘s nuclear forces signal a clear departure from the country’s historically minimalist nuclear posture,” the report said.
The nuclear buildup will allow China to use its conventional force for greater military coercion in Asia and elsewhere, the report’s authors warned.
“Most importantly, China‘s growing nuclear capabilities raise the risks of unintentional nuclear escalation or a deliberate nuclear exchange during a conventional conflict in the Indo-Pacific,” the report stated. “An offensive nuclear strategy could strain U.S. extended deterrence by emboldening Chinese leaders to pursue conventional aggression or nuclear coercion against U.S. allies and partners.”
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan disclosed this week that China is prepared to hold arms control talks with the United States, a position Beijing rejected in the past.
However, U.S. defense and military officials have said China in the past has used arms control as a means of constraining U.S. forces while ignoring limits on its forces.
The report reveals that the PLA Rocket Force added 10 or more brigades to its missile forces since 2017 and now has 40 brigades, 20 of which are believed to be for nuclear strikes, including two brigades of 10-warheads DF-41 missiles.
The missiles are spread around the country at seven bases, including one base in Shaanxi province where most of the PLA’s nuclear warheads are stored.
Three new missile fields under construction in western China are indications of deploying more than 270 new long-range nuclear missiles.
The silo expansion was surprising because in the past China favored underground tunnel networks to store and hide its missile and nuclear forces.