China is "on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world," a new US defense intelligence assessment warns, but that's not what has officials most concerned.
China has been investing billions of dollars, possibly as much as $200 billion in 2018, into its military, which Chinese leadership is putting through a massive overhaul in hopes of building a modern, world-class fighting force capable of waging and winning wars.
"Indeed, China is building a robust, lethal force with capabilities spanning the air, maritime, space, and information domains which will enable China to impose its will in the region," Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley asserted in the preface to the report, noting that Beijing will likely become more insistent as its confidence grows.
It is China's growing self-confidence that has US officials most alarmed, not the development of various weapons platforms, be it unmatched anti-satellite capabilities, precision strike tools, or hypersonic weapons. There is a serious concern that China is moving closer to the point where it might be willing to use military force to achieve its ambitions.
"The biggest concern is that they are going to get to a point where the [Chinese military] leadership may actually tell [Chinese President] Xi Jinping that they are confident in their capabilities," a senior defense intelligence official said on Jan. 15, 2019, just before the release of the DIA assessment, according to Defense News.
"As these technologies mature, as their reorganization of their military comes into effect, as they become more proficient with these capabilities, our concern is we'll reach a point where internally, within their decision-making, they will decide that using military force for a regional conflict is something that is more imminent," the senior official said.
That's bad news for Taiwan, an autonomous, democratic territory that Beijing views as a rogue province.
The island is a top priority for Chinese leadership, according to the report on Chinese military power, the first-ever unclassified DIA assessment of China's military might.
Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Senior Chinese military leadership made that point very clear in a recent meeting with US military leaders. "If anyone wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will safeguard the national unity at all costs so as to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Gen. Li Zuocheng argued in a recent meeting with Adm. John Richardson, the South China Morning Post reported.
Chinese President Xi Jinping recently made clear that military action remains on the table as a possible reunification tool. Other potential flash points include the East and South China Seas.
Despite fears within the military intelligence community about the use of force by the Chinese military, it seems that there is also a consensus that China may not yet be there. "I think in a lot of ways, they have a lot that they need to do," an official said Jan. 15, 2019, according to Stars and Stripes.
"We don't have a real strong grasp on when they will think that they are confident in that capability," the official added, referring to an assault on Taiwan. "They could order them to go today, but I don't think they are particularly confident in that capability."
China called the DIA report "unprofessional," criticizing its findings.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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