China has 1,000 to 1,200 short-range ballistic missiles in place to fire on Taiwan should the island's government attempt a move for total independence, the U.S. Defense Department said in a report issued on Wednesday (see GSN, May 27).
"To improve the lethality of this force, the [People's Liberation Army] is introducing variants of missiles with improved ranges, accuracies, and payloads," Foreign Policy quoted the yearly Pentagon report on Beijing's military capabilities as stating.
Taiwan has an autonomous government but is still claimed by Beijing to be Chinese territory. China has declared its readiness to use military force to prevent Taipei from pursuing full independence.
"Although the PLA is contending with a growing array of missions, Taiwan remains its main strategic direction," the Defense Department said. "The PLA seeks the capability to deter Taiwan independence and influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing's terms. In pursuit of this objective, Beijing is developing capabilities intended to deter, delay, or deny possible U.S. support for the island in the event of conflict. The balance of cross-Strait military forces and capabilities continues to shift in the mainland's favor."
The report also notes a variety of additional advances by the Chinese military, including acquisition of cruise missiles with pinpoint targeting and work on ballistic missiles that could be used against aircraft carriers or other major naval vessels (see GSN, July 13).
Beijing's initial aircraft carrier -- a modernized Soviet ship -- should begin trials in 2011, and its next carrier might be constructed within four years. "China likely will build multiple aircraft carriers with support ships over the next decade," the Pentagon said (Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy, Aug. 24).
“China is fielding an array of conventionally armed ballistic missiles, modern aircraft, (unmanned aerial vehicles), ground- and air-launched land-attack cruise missiles, special operations forces, and cyberwarfare capabilities to hold targets at risk throughout the region,” the Washington Times quoted the report as stating.
While the People's Liberation Army possesses significant levels of obsolete equipment and faces other challenges, it is "steadily closing the technological gap with modern armed forces," according to the report.
"The pace and scope of China’s sustained military investment have allowed China to pursue capabilities that we believe are potentially destabilizing to regional military balances, increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation, and may contribute to regional tensions and anxieties,” said Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Schiffer said during a briefing on the assessment (Bill Gertz, Washington Times, Aug. 24).
China has also begun fielding a more sophisticated nuclear-ready ballistic missile as a deterrent to India, the Indian news magazine domain-B quoted the report as saying.
The People's Liberation Army's new solid-propellant medium-range CSS-5 ballistic missile takes the place of an older CSS-2 intermediate-range ballistic missile, according to the report.
The single-warhead missile is viewed as being deployed chiefly against India as it does not have the flight range to target militarily or nationally important sites in Russia or the United States. The CSS-5 is thought to have a range of 311 to 1,336 miles and to be able to carry a 1,320-pound nuclear, chemical or conventional payload (domain-B, Aug. 25).
Beijing is focused on asserting itself within its region rather than on a global scale, the Defense Department said.
Schiffer cautioned against overstating the threat posed by any one of China's developing armaments, Wired reported.
“There’s nothing particularly magical about any one particular item,” he said (Spencer Ackerman, Wired, Aug. 24).
China on Thursday fired back at the U.S. findings, Agence France-Presse reported.
"The report... exaggerated the threat incurred by China's military development in 2010 to the Asia-Pacific region," the official Xinhua News Agency stated in a commentary. "For many in China, it is weird that the Pentagon, whose expenditures reached nearly $700 billion and accounted for over an appalling 40 percent of the world's total in 2010, routinely points its finger at China."
"The 94-page report, as usual, interferes with the internal issue of China by making wilful comments on the situation across Taiwan Straits," Xinhua added (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, Aug. 25).