A new Pentagon report has sounded the alarm over China's expanding military reach and says the rival to American power is increasing its ability to send bombers further afield while "likely training for strikes" against the United States and its allies.
The warning is contained in an annual Pentagon report prepared for Congress called Military and Security Developments Involving The People's Republic of China 2018, which further notes a defense spending estimate of $190 billion — a third that of the United States — which has in part gone toward the People's Liberation Army (PLA) "undergoing the most comprehensive restructure in its history".
The report comes amidst heightened trade tensions and concerns that China is attempting to gobble up territory in international waters through its militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea.
“Over the last three years, the PLA has rapidly expanded its overwater bomber operating areas, gaining experience in critical maritime regions and likely training for strikes against U.S. and allied targets,” the report reads.
In terms of potential targeting, this may demonstrate the "capability to strike US and allied forces and military bases in the western Pacific Ocean, including Guam," the report adds.
However while generally outlining ways that China is establishing itself as an unrivaled regional power, such as through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the report notes that it's not clear what message Beijing is projecting by carrying out the flights “beyond a demonstration of improved capabilities.”
The report projects that China's military budget is likely to expand to $240 billion over the next decade, adding that "The purpose of these reforms is to create a more mobile, modular, lethal ground force capable of being the core of joint operations" that can "fight and win" against a major military power.
Notably the Pentagon's annual report also highlights China's growing space program "despite its public stance against the militarization of space" — something which likely factored into President Trump's mid-June announcement that he would "immediately" establish a "space force" as an independent service branch of the Department of Defense.
The report says of the contentious issue of Taiwan, which is claimed by China but maintains de facto independent security ties with the US, that China "is likely preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with China by force".
The assessment spells out China is ready to go to war to protect its claim over the island: "Should the United States intervene, China would try to delay effective intervention and seek victory in a high-intensity, limited war of short duration."
Acknowledging the potential for rapid and worrisome escalation between the global powers, the Pentagon report stresses that the US "seeks a constructive and results-oriented relationship with China".
As Reuters points out, "While Washington and Beijing maintain a military-to-military relationship aimed at containing tensions, this has been tested in recent months, notably in May when the Pentagon withdrew an invitation to China to join a multinational naval exercise."
However, Washington and Beijing have kept communication channels open, despite a growing trade war, as a Chinese trade delegation is set to visit the US this month to initiate a new round of talks.
The Chinese delegation, reportedly to be led by vice-commerce minister Wang Shouwen plans to meet a group led by US Treasury undersecretary David Malpass amidst aggressive US tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, and after Trump threatened tariffs on a further $200 billion worth of imports.