US sees China’s aggression toward Taiwan as new normal since Pelosi visit

US sees China’s aggression toward Taiwan as new normal since Pelosi visit

Ream Naval Base in Gulf of Thailand is 'China's first overseas base in the Indo-Pacific'

Chinese J-20 stealth fighters of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) perform at the Airshow China 2022 in Zhuhai in southern China's Guangdong province on Nov 8, 2022. (AFP photo)
Chinese J-20 stealth fighters of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) perform at the Airshow China 2022 in Zhuhai in southern China's Guangdong province on Nov 8, 2022. (AFP photo)

The US expects China to keep up the more aggressive behaviour toward Taiwan it began during a visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a senior Pentagon official said in unveiling the department’s latest assessment of the country’s military might.

China has conducted more naval operations and invasive air activity around the self-governed island in an apparent effort to intimidate and wear down Taiwan’s leaders, according to the official, who spoke to reporters on customary condition of anonymity. That activity includes crossing what’s known unofficially as the centreline of the Taiwan Strait between the island and China’s mainland.

The US sees no sign of an imminent attack but still believes that China wants to have the capability, at least, to launch an invasion of the island by 2027, part of a broader push to make it the world’s most powerful military by 2049, the official said.

China hasn’t reverted to its lesser levels of intrusive air and sea actions since Pelosi’s trip in August, signalling a new normal in aggressive and unsafe behaviour, the official said.

That could lead to another incident like the collision of a US EP-3 reconnaissance plane with a Chinese fighter in April 2001, the official said. The largely forgotten incident was President George W. Bush’s first major foreign policy crisis.

Beyond such continuing risks, China “could conduct a range of options for military campaigns against Taiwan, with varying degrees of feasibility and associated risks,” according to the report. “These options may range from an air and/or maritime blockade to a full-scale amphibious invasion to seize and occupy some of its offshore islands or all of Taiwan.”

That perspective informed key elements of the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the state of China’s military and its global ambitions that was released on Tuesday.

China has likely considered Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola, and Tajikistan as locations for military logistics facilities, the report said.

It also identified a military facility at Ream Naval Base in Cambodia – only about 200km by sea from Trat province – that “will be the first PRC overseas base in the Indo-Pacific”. President Joe Biden expressed concern about possible activities by China’s military there earlier this month. 

The report further highlighted the pervasive US unease about China’s expanding triad of ground, air and sea-launched nuclear weapons, its conventional air force, which is “rapidly catching up to western air forces”, a non-nuclear rocket force that launched 135 test weapons last year -- more than any other nation -- and an improved logistics support force for extended land operations.

Since last year, the Pentagon said, China has “probably accelerated its nuclear expansion” and is on track to amass an arsenal of about 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035 -- up from an estimated 400 today and 1,000 in 2030 -- and is developing new war-fighting capabilities in space such as ground-based lasers and orbiting space robots along with better surveillance to monitor other orbiting objects.

The report said that in 2021 China continued building three silo fields for solid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missiles, with a plan of having at least 300 new silos.

While China has continued to expand its nuclear arsenal, its stockpile would still leave the US far ahead with a current count of 3,750 warheads.

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