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A new Pentagon report to congress in August details how China has begun training its long-range bombers for attacks on the United States and Taiwan as well as continuing both to expand and modernize its ground forces.
Representing a significant change in Chinese military doctrine that was previously focused on defensive operations close to China's borders, the focus is increasingly becoming a projection of power over the Pacific.
The report explains that "Over the last three years, the PLA (People's Liberation Army) has rapidly expanded its overwater bomber operating areas, gaining experience in critical maritime regions and likely training for strikes against US and allied targets."
As part of this preparation, six Chinese H-6K bombers flew in August through the Miyako Straight southwest of Japan and then made a course correction to fly north, passing east of Okinawa and 47,000 US military personnel in a demonstration of their range. The US has also issued official diplomatic warnings to China for what appear to be mock nuclear bombing runs on Guam, the home of a major US base in the region.
Closer to the Chinese mainland, US carrier battle groups, bombers and strike craft would come within range of the world's most potent long and medium range rocket force. With thousands of precision shore-ship rocket batteries ready to counter American naval power and Taiwanese defenses, the shift to increase their forces with long range bombers was the next logical step.
The report indicates that in just one year, 2017 compared to 2016, China increased its arsenal of bombers and strike aircraft from 400 to 530. Heavy transport and in-air refueling aircraft also saw 15 new planes added to their fleet.
It is hard to say where China intends its next territorial expansion, but after resolving its recent land dispute with India, the unprecedented construction of militarized artificial islands and the quick expansion of naval and air power, the evidence points to either Taiwan or the South China Sea. China also added 55 coast guard vessels to its fleet in 2017 as it continues to ramp up tensions with both Taiwan and the bevy of countries staking claims to the South China Sea.
President Xi, in his newly consolidated position of power, has set the year 2050 as the goal for China to complete its decades-long process of military modernization and become the preeminent military power in the world. The recent Pentagon report also revealed that China added 65,000 active military personnel to its armed forces and 400 tanks, even as it modernized its military organizational and command structure.
The report also presented to Congress China's use of space-based early warning systems for nuclear defense, increased nuclear readiness capabilities (including four new nuclear missile submarines and an unknown number of attack subs) and hunter-killer satellites capable of destroying US and allied satellites used for GPS, communication, navigation and weapons guidance.
Is it any coincidence that China has also stepped up its rhetoric concerning Taiwan, pressuring airlines, hotels and banks to recognize it as part of China? Or that it has lured away 5 more countries that previously recognized Taiwanese sovereignty, leaving only 17 nations still loyal to Taiwan? The latest was the small nation of El Salvador that turned its back on Taiwan in exchange for Chinese infrastructure investment.
The manpower added to the world's largest military in 2017 alone is larger than the entire active duty militaries of either Canada, Iraq or Chile, each of which comes in at under 65,000 troops.
China already has the capability easily to overwhelm several of its smaller regional neighbors and could conceivably take Taiwan now, but it knows that the United States would not sit idly by and watch it happen. Thus, its focus on countering US military power and projecting its strike capabilities far out into the Pacific towards US carriers and bases.