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China Military Continues Taiwan Focus, Pentagon Report Says

China has kept its military’s focus on Taiwan even as it is “contending with a growing array of missions,” according to the Pentagon’s latest assessment of China’s military power.

“China continued modernizing its military in 2010, with a focus on Taiwan contingencies, even as cross-Strait relations have improved,” the report said. The goal is “to deter Taiwan independence and influence Taiwan to settle the disputes on Beijing’s terms,” said the report released today.

“The balance of cross-Strait military forces and capabilities continues to shift in the mainland’s favor,” it said, through development of weapons such as the J-20 stealth fighter and anti-ship ballistic missiles “intended to deter, delay or deny possible U.S. support for the island.”

The report to Congress is an annual point of tension between the world’s two biggest economies, whose leaders have pushed to improve military ties. There have been other strains. China opposed a 2010 U.S. decision to sell arms to Taiwan and there were naval confrontations in 2009.

As of December, the People’s Liberation Army had deployed between 1,000 and 1,200 short-range ballistic missiles to units opposite Taiwan, said the report, including “missiles with improved ranges, accuracies and payloads.”

“Relations have continued to improve over the past couple of years, but, despite this political warming, China’s military shows no signs of slowing its effort to prepare for a cross-Strait contingency,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Michael Schiffer told reporters at the Pentagon today.

‘Potentially Destabilizing’

China’s military, besides its Taiwan focus, is expanding its capability for missions as far away as the Indian Ocean and further into the Pacific region, according to the Pentagon.

“China’s sustained military investments have allowed China to pursue capabilities that are potentially destabilizing to regional military balances,” it said.

In the past year, “China made strides toward fielding an operational anti-ship ballistic missile, continued work on its aircraft carrier and finalized the prototype of its first stealth aircraft,” the report said.

The report said the anti-ship missile, the DF-21D, has a range exceeding 1,500 kilometers and a maneuverable warhead designed to provide “the capability to attack large ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific.”

Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and House Armed Services Committee member, today cited the report as signaling “the danger of additional defense spending cuts.”

‘Increasingly Aggressive’

The committee chairman, Representative Howard McKeon of California, in a statement said the report “is a critical tool” for lawmakers concerned that China has an “increasingly aggressive modernization plan.”

The report reflects a “Cold War mentality,” said Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington. “We hope the U.S. will take practical steps to work with China for stable and healthy military ties by following the spirit of mutual respect, mutual trust, reciprocity and mutual benefit,” he said.

The report includes previous U.S. assertions that “some weapons transferred to terrorist organizations in Iraq and Afghanistan” were from Chinese companies.

China’s Ambition

China’s new J-20 jet, flown for the first time this year during a visit to China by then Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “highlights China’s ambition to produce fighter aircraft that incorporates stealth attributes, advanced avionics and super-cruise capable engines over the next several years,” the Pentagon said.

The 2010 report didn’t discuss the J-20. Today’s report said the J-20 is one of several weapons, as well as longer-range conventional ballistic missiles, that may increase China’s capability to attack U.S. bases in the region.

Still, the Pentagon “does not expect the J-20 to achieve an effective operational capability” before 2018 and China “faces several hurdles as it moves toward J-20 production, including the mastery of high-performance jet engine production,” it said.

Schiffer said that there has been no final decision on whether the U.S. should sell advanced F-16s to Taiwan, an issue of long-standing Chinese opposition.

“We work this question on a daily basis and, consistent with our obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States will provide to Taiwan the self-defense capabilities that it requires,” he said.

Sale to Taiwan

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has promised Senator John Cornyn of Texas that she will provide an answer by Oct. 1 as to whether the U.S. will proceed with a new sale. Lockheed Martin Corp. makes the F-16 in Texas and Cornyn backs the Taiwan sale.

The report contains a fuller discussion than past editions of China’s suspected cyber warfare capabilities, including “computer network attacks.”

U.S. government computers last year “were the target of intrusions, some of which appear to have originated within the PRC,” mainly for stealing information instead of malicious attacks intended to destroy a network, the report said.

Still, cyber warfare capabilities could add to China’s conventional military power in three key areas, including “targeting network-based logistics, communications and commercial activities,” it said.

Integrated Network

PLA theorists have coined the term “integrated network electronic warfare” to describe using computer network operations in tandem with traditional weapons strikes to disrupt battlefield information systems, the report said.

The report struck a similar but not as strident a tone as Air Force Vice Chief of Staff General Philip Breedlove during a July 26 House armed services readiness panel hearing.

“Clearly, we are some number of decades ahead of the Chinese in stealth and in the capability to employ stealth and to do these high-technically pieces of work in the military,” Breedlove told committee Chairman Randy Forbes of Virginia.

Still, Breedlove said, China, “the way they’re intruding into the nets of our manufacturers and our government, they’re catching up at an increased rate because of what they learn.”

Increases in China’s defense spending, which trails only that of the U.S., are also raising concern among neighboring countries with competing territorial claims.

Tensions rose last year after the U.S. announced plans in January to sell $6.4 billion of missiles, helicopters and ships to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province that should be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary.

China broke off military-to-military talks with the U.S. until late 2010, ahead of visits by Gates to Beijing in January this year and Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the U.S. that same month.

Chinese General Chen Bingde, chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, visited the U.S. in May, further driving efforts to improve ties.

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