China’s military is “likely training for strikes” against U.S. targets in the Pacific, the Defense Department warned Thursday in a sobering report that says Beijing’s broader strategy is to develop armed forces capabilities able to “degrade” American advantages.
The Pentagon’s assessment — part of a much larger annual report to Congress looking at China’s military power and geopolitical goals — concludes that China wants to greatly expand its scope of influence in the region and wants to demonstrate to other world powers, especially the U.S., that the capabilities of its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have increased dramatically.
“The PLA has long been developing air strike capabilities to engage targets as far away from China as possible. 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 Pentagon wrote.
“The PLA may continue to extend its operations beyond the first island chain, demonstrating the capability to strike U.S. and allied forces and military bases in the western Pacific Ocean, including Guam,” Defense Department officials continued.
The U.S.-China relationship in recent months has been strained by an escalating trade war which President Trump maintains is necessary for America’s long-term economic health and to cut down on Beijing’s cheating in the international marketplace.
On the military front, China’s attempted expansion into the South China Sea and elsewhere in the Pacific has kept U.S. officials on edge, and led to a degradation of the bilateral relationship. Earlier this year, for example, the U.S. said China would no longer be invited to a key military exercise in the Pacific known as the Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC.
U.S. military leaders have made clear that countering China remains a top military goal. Just this month, Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced they’d pursue a sixth branch of the armed forces known as the “Space Force,” with the explicit goal of staying ahead of Beijing with respect to space capabilities.
But China has the same goals, the Pentagon warned. In fact, Beijing’s entire strategy is built on countering U.S. technological advantages, and the PLA right now is being entirely retooled so it can better compete with America.
“China’s military modernization targets capabilities with the potential to degrade core U.S. operational and technological advantages,” Defense officials continued in the report. “To support this modernization, China uses a variety of methods to acquire foreign military and dual-use technologies, including targeted foreign direct investment, cyber theft, and exploitation of private Chinese nationals’ access to these technologies.”
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