China is rapidly building up its military forces and weapons systems to project power beyond Taiwan, according to a Pentagon report made public yesterday.
Chinese military leaders “have expressed the view that control of Taiwan would enable the [People’s Liberation Army’s] Navy to move its maritime defensive perimeter further seaward and improve Beijing’s ability to influence regional sea lines of communication,” said the annual report, required by Congress.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters that China’s economy and defense spending are growing “and they have been purchasing substantial numbers of modern weapons from a variety of countries, including Russia.”
“They have been deploying additional capabilities,” he said.
China’s efforts, the report said, are shifting the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait in Beijing’s favor.
“The cross-Strait military balance appears to be shifting toward Beijing as a result of China’s sustained economic growth, growing diplomatic leverage and improvements in the PLA’s military capabilities,” the report said.
For the first time since the report was produced in 2000, the Pentagon presented several assessments showing China may not evolve as a peaceful international power.
China’s growing nationalism, an expanding military that proliferates arms to rogue states and a government that is still adapting to stronger roles give it the potential to be a threatening power.
“In the future, as China’s military power grows, China’s leaders may be tempted to resort to force or coercion more quickly to press diplomatic advantage, advance security interests, or resolve disputes,” the report said.
The report stated that the U.S. intelligence community estimates it will take China until 2010 to be ready to confront a medium-sized power.
However, the report noted that Chinese military secrecy has resulted in “incomplete data” about its arms.
For example, U.S. intelligence agencies were taken by surprise by China’s development of the Yuan class of attack submarine that has new underwater propulsion capabilities.
Regarding strategic weapons, the report said China’s 20 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles were modified to boost their range to cover all of the United States, not just a portion of the country as in the past.
A Chinese general last week threatened to use nuclear weapons against U.S. cities if a conflict broke out over Taiwan.
Gen. Zhu Chenghu, head of a defense school, told reporters that if U.S. forces interfere in a conflict over Taiwan, “the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds … of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese” with nuclear weapons.
A map within the report shows that the entire United States, except Florida, is now within range of Chinese ICBMs.
“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is modernizing its forces, emphasizing preparations to fight and win short-duration, high-intensity conflicts along China’s periphery,” the report said.
In addition to attacking U.S. forces that might intervene in a Taiwan conflict, “over the long term, if current trends persist, PLA capabilities could pose a credible threat to other modern militaries operating in the region,” the report said, noting that the pace of the buildup has accelerated since the 1990s.
Chinese defense spending is thought to be two or three times higher than official figures, the report said.
Key elements of the Chinese arms buildup outlined in the report include:
Deployment of between 650 and 730 mobile, short-range CSS-6 and CSS-7 missiles opposite Taiwan and the addition of 100 missiles per year.
Plans to use its ballistic missiles to conduct “anti-access/sea-denial missions” against U.S. and other warships.
Development of three new types of long-range missiles, and a new medium-range missile, giving Beijing “missiles capable of striking targets across the globe, including in the United States.”
Importation of Israeli-made Harpy and Russian-made anti-radiation missiles.