Amid increasing tensions with Beijing, the Pentagon on Tuesday released a new report that lays out US concerns about China's growing military might, underscoring worries about a possible attack against Taiwan.
The senior U.S. defense intelligence official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, did not predict that China's military, known as the People's Liberation Army (PLA), would take such a step but said such a possibility was the top worry as China expands and modernizes its military capabilities.
"Beijing's longstanding interest to eventually compel Taiwan's reunification with the mainland and deter any attempt by Taiwan to declare independence has served as the primary driver for China's military modernization", DIA Director Robert Ashley wrote.
"China shifted funds and efforts to acquiring technology by any means available".
Speaking to reporters in Washington on Tuesday, a senior defense official admitted that he was anxious about China now having the confidence to pull off major military moves - such as invading Taiwan.
Under its "one-China" policy, the ruling Communist Party has always said it wants to bring Taiwan under its control, whether by diplomacy or by force.
While the report acknowledges that China spends significantly less on defense than the some $700 billion invested by the USin 2018, it says Beijing enjoys an advantage due to the fact that "China has not had to invest in costly R&D of new technologies to the same degree as the United States".
Ashley listed China's most potent weapons, some of which are the most advanced in the world in their field.
"The biggest concern is that they are going to get to - they are getting to a point where the PLA leadership may actually tell Xi Jinping that they are confident in their capabilities", the official said, referring to China's leader.
What alarms DIA officials is the increasing confidence China's military has displayed in its own abilities in recent years, and whether that could signal the country is inching toward striking or invading Taiwan, a senior defense intelligence official said Tuesday ahead of the report's release. "In some areas, it already leads the world".
These include submarines, anti-ship and anti-air missiles.
China has stepped up its pressure on Taiwan since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, took office in 2016.
"We make no promise to give up the use of military force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means" against Taiwanese separatist activities and "outside forces" that interfere with reunification, he said.
Top American defense officials have long viewed China's military as a rising power that eventually seeks parity with the USA military force, leading the Pentagon to list it - alongside Russian Federation - as the top potential security threat in its latest National Defense Strategy released previous year. "The challenge, of course, is for measuring against a globally active USA military that has many different missions and many different tasks, so I think there's a very long way for the PLA to reach that level".
Chinese military vehicles carrying DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles, potentially capable of sinking a US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier in a single strike, travel past Tiananmen Gate during a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Beijing Thursday Sept. 3, 2015.
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