Taiwan continues to be the “principal focus and driver” of China’s extensive military modernisation and expansion, a senior Pentagon official said on Friday. US acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Helvey said that even though cross-strait relations have improved greatly, “China’s military shows no sign of slowing its efforts to prepare for Taiwan Strait contingencies.”
At a US Department of Defense briefing, called to release the Pentagon’s annual report to the US Congress on China’s military and security developments, Helvey stressed Beijing’s commitment to a long-term comprehensive military programme.
Above all else it was designed to improve the capacity of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to “fight and win” local wars under conditions of high intensity, he said.
At the same time, China’s leaders have – over the past 12 months – sustained investment in nuclear forces, short and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles, advanced aircraft and integrated air defenses, he added. The PLA has also engaged in the advanced development of cruise missiles, submarines, surface warships and counter-space and cyberwarfare capabilities.
Such developments appeared to be designed “to enable what we call anti-access and area-denial missions, or what PLA strategists refer to as counterintervention operations,” Helvey said
Other Pentagon sources said that this was a reference to Beijing’s plan to prevent the US from intervening in the case of an attack on Taiwan.
The 50-page report said that over the past year, the PLA had continued to expand its capabilities and develop a doctrine it considered necessary to stop Taiwan from declaring independence.
In its overview of the situation, the report said that China intended increased cross-strait economic and cultural ties “to promote progress toward eventual unification.”
“Simultaneously, the PRC [People's Republic of China] is developing military capabilities to give it the ability to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms. However, Beijing still lacks these capabilities and recognises the costs and risks -associated with a decision to -escalate the dispute to the point of conflict,” the report said.
Beijing and Taipei have taken little action, according to the report, to develop political and security confidence-building measures.
“Although Beijing wants to further develop these ties, it takes into account political sensitivities in Taiwan,” it said, adding that “Beijing appears to be comfortable with current initiatives and hopeful that, over the long term, economic, social and cultural integration will dilute pro-independence sentiment in Taiwan and will make the prospect of peaceful unification a more attractive proposition.”
The report said that Beijing appeared prepared to defer the use of force as long as it believed unification remained possible and the costs of conflict outweighed the benefits. Meanwhile, the cross-Strait military balance – in terms of personnel, force structure, weapons and developments in military doctrine – “continues to trend in Beijing’s favour.”
Although the PLA still faced limitations in its ability to conduct a full-scale amphibious invasion of Taiwan, its growing capabilities have enhanced its ability to strike economic and military targets on the island.
“Should Beijing decide to use military force against Taiwan, it is possible the PLA would mobilise forces in a manner that optimises preparation in favour of tactical surprise,” the report said.