US defense report: Taiwan ‘primary driver for China’s military modernization’

US Defense Intelligence Agency believes Taiwan concerns are fuelling ongoing PLA reforms

PLA member marching before the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

PLA member marching before the Great Hall of the People in Beijing (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The U.S.’s Defense Intelligence Agency published an unclassified report today (Jan. 16) entitled “2019 China Military Power Report,” which cites Taiwan unification as the “primary driver for China’s military modernization.”

Some of China’s other longstanding concerns, including Uighur and Tibetan separatism and control over disputed maritime areas, are listed alongside Taiwan as primary factors fuelling the country’s ongoing military reforms.

The comprehensive 130-page report contains chapters that provide a historical overview of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s threat perceptions, stability and leadership issues, strategy, budget and military capabilities.

Taiwan is listed as one of China’s most prominent perceived threats to national stability. The report points out that unification across the strait forms a key component of Xi Jinping’s promise to enact the “national rejuvenation” of China, outlined in his 19th congressional address back in October 2017.

“Beijing’s anticipation that foreign forces would intervene in a Taiwan scenario led the PLA to develop a range of systems to deter and deny foreign regional force projection,” the report states.

It also mentions how China has “closed many of the gaps in key warfare areas” in recent years, through building or acquiring advanced platforms such as submarines, missile patrol crafts and land-based systems that carry antiship cruise missiles, in order to deter Taiwanese independence or provide “a range of tailored military options against Taiwan and potential third-party military intervention” if an attack were deemed necessary.

While the PLA remained technologically inferior to most Western military forces until the past decade, it has been able to surpass them to become the most advanced army in the world by shifting funds and efforts to “acquiring technology by any means available,” Lieutenant General Robert P. Ashley states in an introduction to the report.

As has been widely documented, Beijing has acquired military technologies through forced transfers from foreign companies operating in China, and espionage abroad.

It was discovered in October last year that PLA-affiliated scientists had posed under false identities in collaborative projects with Western university researchers to attain knowledge in the fields of navigation technology, computer science and artificial intelligence for military purposes.

Part of China’s new military strategy is to integrate cyberwarfare capabilities alongside physical operations. China has launched multiple large-scale cyber attacks on various rival governments in recent years.