A new U.S. military report says China is pointing more ballistic missiles at Taiwan and boosting military spending to prepare for a potential conflict with the rebellious island province.
A new Pentagon report to the U.S. Congress says Beijing currently has about 450 missiles aimed at the island of Taiwan, and is increasing the number at the rate of about 75 per year. Previously, the increase was thought to be only about 50 new missiles a year.
The report says China's recent missiles have longer range and are growing more accurate and more lethal, as well as more numerous. The authors also say Beijing is adding more long-range strike aircraft to its forces.
Weapons with a long reach would be important in any conflict with Taiwan, because the island sits 160 kilometers off the Mainland coast and is defended by well-equipped forces.
Taiwan National University Professor Philip Yang says the growing number of missiles in particular causes "great concern" on the island. "Particularly, in perception of Beijing's intention to resolve the Taiwan question through military means. It also enhances Taiwanese people and current Taiwanese government's perception of Beijing's determination to resolve the Taiwan question in a certain period of time," said Mr. Yang.
China and Taiwan split politically amid civil war half a century ago.
The island has been ruled separately ever since, and maintains its own, substantial military force.
The communist Mainland considers Taiwan a rebel province, and has made regaining control of the prosperous, democratic island one of its top priorities.
Beijing says it wants reunification with Taiwan to be achieved peacefully if possible. It has offered to allow the island to keep its democratic government and institutions, much as it did when it regained sovereignty over the former British colony of Hong Kong in 1997.
But Beijing says it will carry out reunification with Taiwan by military force if necessary, and it frequently warns that its patience is limited.
Military analyst Robert Karniol of Jane's Defense Weekly says boosting the annual missile production rate by 50 percent is "probably significant."
"We know Chinese strategic thinkers have been increasingly showing interest in coercive strategy and one can guess that increased capability in ballistic missiles would help them along that path. But for all we know, there may be a whole bunch of factors at play," said Mr. Karniol.
The Pentagon report says preparing for a potential conflict in the Taiwan Straits is the main drive behind China's military modernization.
In each of the past four years, China has bought $2 billion worth of advanced warplanes, ships and submarines from Russia, about double what it was spending on such weapons previously.
The Pentagon predicts that China will boost its overall military budget by a factor of three or four by the year 2020. The modernization is gradually but noticeably improving the military capabilities China would need to attack Taiwan successfully.
China's Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on the Pentagon report, but has said in the past that China has the sovereign right to build and deploy whatever weapons it wants, wherever it thinks necessary on its own soil.
China considers Taiwan the most important issue in U.S.-Chinese relations, often urging Washington not to meddle in the Taiwan question, which Beijing considers China's internal affair.
The United States is pledged to help defend Taiwan against unprovoked attack by China, and sells advanced weapons to the island for its defense.
However, the long-standing U.S. position is that the Mainland and Taiwan are part of "one China," and successive U.S. administrations have opposed outright independence for Taiwan.