China's military has been spending a lot more time working on how to forcefully capture an island, Pentagon says
China's military has been increasingly practicing seizing islands, the Pentagon says.
In a new report, the Pentagon assessed Beijing's island-capture training is becoming more realistic.
The US has accused China of engaging in aggressive behavior around Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
China's military is spending an increasing amount of time executing drills focused on taking islands by force, according to a new Department of Defense report.
The report, which was made public by the Pentagon on Tuesday, outlines the latest Chinese military and security developments and aims to provide Congress with insight into Beijing's intentions and goals. As an extensive assessment of China's military might, the report outlines the threat that China poses to the self-ruled democratic island of Taiwan.
The Pentagon reported that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) "intensified diplomatic, political, and military pressure" against Taiwan during 2021, increasing "provocative and destabilizing actions" around the region.
These actions included "island-seizure exercises" and flights that cross into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) — moves which Beijing has continued well into 2022.
As for last year, island-seizure exercises "became more frequent and realistic," the Department of Defense said, explaining that the PLA carried out more than 20 naval exercises that had some island-seizure element, compared to just 13 such exercises the previous year. These exercises and drills — some of which were carried out by the Chinese military in waters near Taiwan — have been previously touted on Chinese state media.
"Many of these exercises focused on combat realism and featured night missions, training in adverse weather conditions, and simultaneous multi-domain operations," the Pentagon said in its report. Combat realism in training has been a focus of Chinese leader Xi Jinping's military modernization efforts, which are aimed at building a world-class force that can fight and win wars.
And Chinese leadership has never renounced the use of force as an option for achieving its unification goals with Taiwan, which China regards as part of its sovereign territory.
In specifically assessing potential military action that China could take against Taiwan, the Pentagon concluded that a massive amphibious invasion would be a tough feat for Beijing. Such an operation, which is among the more complicated to carry out, would require significant support, air and sea control, and enough supplies. Such an undertaking would significantly strain PLA forces, and there are substantial risks.
"Combined with inevitable force attrition, complexity of urban warfare, and potential insurgency, these factors make an amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political and military risk for Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, even assuming a successful landing and breakout," the Pentagon said.
The Department of Defense noted, however, that while China may struggle with a full-scale invasion of Taiwan, it is capable of seizing smaller Taiwan-controlled islands, such as Pratas or Itu Aba in the South China Sea. The Pentagon also said that an "invasion of a medium-sized, better-defended island such as Matsu or Kinmen is within the PLA's capabilities."
Such a move would demonstrate capability and resolve while showing restraint, the Pentagon said, but there are still political risks, such as strong international condemnation.
In addition to Beijing's longstanding focus on Taiwan, China also holds competing claims to islands and reefs in the South China Sea, where China has been building military outposts and strengthening its position.
The US has accused China of increasingly aggressive behavior around the South China Sea, with US officials previously warning that China's "irresponsible behavior" could trigger a "major incident or accident." The most recent warnings came amid a period of heightened tensions between China and the US over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan.
Earlier this month, Vice President Kamala Harris made a rare trip to a South China Sea hotspot, specifically the Philippine island of Palawan, which overlooks contested areas in the strategic waterway. China's response was more restrained though than it was when Pelosi visited Taiwan.
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