China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is gradually preparing for a possible invasion of the neighboring democratic island of Taiwan, according to a military analysis published by the Pentagon in Washington.
Armed forces under the ruling Chinese Communist Party "continued to develop and deploy increasingly advanced military capabilities intended to coerce Taiwan, signal Chinese resolve, and gradually improve capabilities for an invasion," the U.S. Department of Defense said in an annual report on China's military capabilities.
"These improvements pose major challenges to Taiwan’s security."
The report said Taiwan's military security has largely depended on the PLA’s inability to project power decisively across the 100 nautical-mile Taiwan Strait, as well as on the technological superiority of Taiwan’s armed forces, and the possibility that the U.S. may intervene in any conflict.
But it said that the Communist Party, which has never ruled Taiwan, has become increasingly intolerant of what it calls "foreign interference in Taiwan's affairs."
It cited a warning last year by Chinese embassy official Li Kexin, who said any visit to Taiwan by the U.S. Navy would prompt China to take Taiwan by force.
According to the report: "PLA services and support forces continue to improve training and acquire new capabilities for a Taiwan contingency."
But it there are no signs of preparations for an imminent invasion.
"There is no indication [the PLA] is significantly expanding its landing ship force necessary for an amphibious assault on Taiwan," the report said.
Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense said its current strategy of coastal defenses and deterring attack "effectively ensures national security."
Taiwan boosts military spending
It pointed to a recent increase in the island's military budget to boost its military defense and preparedness.
"The Ministry of National Defense emphasizes that the national army has the ability to defend national security, continue to promote national defense autonomy, integrate defense resources, invest in military preparation priorities, and build highly mobile, high-quality, high-performance and high-precision strike capabilities to ensure national security and regional peace and stability," the statement said.
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the Republic of China under the nationalist KMT government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.
When the KMT regime fled to Taiwan in 1947 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communist troops, the Republic of China ceased to control most of China, but has kept its name on Taiwan.
Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
But Beijing regards the island as part of China, and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence. Beijing has succeeded in isolating Taiwan diplomatically by insisting that its diplomatic partners break off ties with Taipei, under the "One China" policy.
New Power Party lawmaker Hsu Yung-ming said mainland China has been preparing for a possible invasion of Taiwan for a long time now, and its spies are very active on the island.
"They have been collecting information from inside Taiwan, as well as strengthening their influence on Taiwan," Hsu told RFA. "I think invasion is their long-term goal."
"China has always gathered intelligence on Taiwan, and we have seen its pervasive influence during election time," he said.
In Beijing, Peking University international studies expert Liang Yunxiang said China is indeed developing its military capabilities.
"Actually, yes, China is developing, and it has very different ideology to American values," Liang said. "China has repeatedly said it has no intention of challenging the United States, so why doesn't Washington believe that?"
"Actually, clashes aren't inevitable, because both sides take great care ... to use diplomatic channels to communicate, as well as boosting their military hardware," he said. "It's possible to figure out what the other side is actually doing, if you have a dialogue."
Taiwan military analyst Erich Shih said the policies of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under President Tsai Ing-wen had contributed to heightened political tensions, however.
Tsai's refusal to sign up to a 1992 agreement with Beijing on the "One China" policy could trigger hostilities on the basis that the Communist Party believes that any possibility for peaceful "reunification" has been exhausted, Shih said.
"Strictly speaking, Taiwan's military can effectively resist the mainland," he said. "This would be no problem for 10 days, or two weeks, but it is unrealistic to say that they could continue to hold them off for a year and a half."
According to Shih, the PLA has a lot of options for using force against Taiwan, including blockades and embargoes.
Taiwan's economy depends on foreign air and sea transportation links, and the island could suffer serious problems if it were blockaded for just two weeks, he said.
According to the Washington report, Taiwan remains the PLA’s main “strategic direction,” one of the geographic areas the leadership identifies as having strategic importance.
It added that China continues to develop capabilities to "dissuade, deter, or if ordered, defeat third-party intervention" during a large-scale military campaign.
Reported by Chung Kwang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.