Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) China is rapidly modernising its military and could pose a long-term threat to other regional armed forces but it lacks the capacity to attack Taiwan, this according to the Pentagon's annual report released today to the US Congress.
China has especially made considerable advances in sea and air power, the report said.
It has deployed 650-730 mobile short range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan, and is adding about 100 missiles a year. Newer missiles have improved range and accuracy.
In addition, it has 375,000 ground forces deployed in three military regions opposite Taiwan.
Two-thirds of its naval assets are in the East and South China seas.
"China does not now face a direct threat from another nation," the report said. "Yet, it continues to invest heavily in its military, particularly in programs designed to improve power projection."
China's defence spending is estimated to be two to three times greater than that acknowledged by Beijing, or up to 90 billion dollars this year, making it the third largest in the world after the United States and Russia. A large portion of it is spent purchasing high-tech weaponry from nations such as Russia but also Israel.
The pace and scope of China's military build-up are already such as to put regional military balances at risk and Beijing "may be tempted to resort to force or coercion more quickly to press diplomatic advantage, advance security interests or resolve disputes".
According to the Pentagon analysts, China is at a strategic crossroads that could lead down two paths.
One path is peaceful integration and benign competition in the world; the other would see China exert dominant influence in an expanding sphere.
China can also pursue reunification with Taiwan and maintain the existing political system.
"Questions remain about the basic choices China's leaders will make as China's power and influence grow, particularly its military power," the report said.
The Pentagon has been raising alarms over China's military modernisation for several years. Its annual report, always controversial, is the focus of even more attention this year because of increasingly vocal concerns in Washington over China's trade and currency policies.
"As I see it, China is on a path where they are determined to increase their economy, the opportunities for their people and to enter the world community," US Secretary of the Defence Donald Rumsfeld told a news briefing before the report was released.
"They want the (2008) Olympics to go well. They are doing a number of things to leave the world with the impression that they are a good place for investment and a good economic partner."
However, he is predicting that China will be confronted with a dilemma in the years ahead between a political system that is not free and the need for openness to compete successfully in the world economy.
"To the extent the political system gives and they take a path that increasingly reflects the reality that a country that fully participates in the world is going to be most successful if they have a relatively free political and a relatively free economic system, then that would be a good thing for the world," he said.
Secretary Rumsfeld reiterated Washington's stance that the European Union should maintain its arms embargo on China, which was imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Under pressures from Italy, France and Germany the European parliament tried to lift the ban in the first half of the year, but was stopped by US opposition.
In his recent trip to China European Commission President José Manuel Barroso stressed the importance of keeping the ban until China takes effective measures to improve human rights. (PB)