China regards Taiwan as part of its own territory despite splitting off from the mainland after a 1949 civil war.
The 50-page report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, released Tuesday, contends that with its advances in military capabilities and an increasingly internationally focused defense strategy, China is rapidly entering "a period of strategic opportunity ..."
Noting that China is now building its first domestically-designed and -produced aircraft carrier, the Pentagon said the primary objective of this vessel will be to serve a regional defense mission.
In response to the report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said it used a "Cold War" mentality.
Chinese President Xi Jinping recently made clear that military action remains on the table as a possible reunification tool.
While it calls for a peer-to-peer cooperative relationship with the United States, Beijing also believes that the presence of the USA military and the US-led security architecture in Asia seeks to constrain China's rise and interfere with its sovereignty, particularly in a Taiwan conflict scenario and in the East and South China Seas.
For now, however, after that initial missile strike, it is highly unlikely that Chinese forces could mount the necessary ground invasion to overtake the island, the US official said.
It has also strongly objected to U.S. warship passages through the Taiwan Strait this year, and issued a terse warning about Taiwan after talks in Beijing on Tuesday with the U.S. Navy's top officer, Admiral John Richardson. Xi responded by imposing penalties on $110 billion of American goods.
China's rapidly modernizing military is quickly closing the gap with the USA and its allies and may soon be tempted to test the status quo with Taiwan, a stark report from the Defense Department's intelligence directorate concluded.
The report claims China has tripled its military spending since 2002, hitting around $200 billion past year.
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Just after taking over as the acting defense secretary, Pat Shanahan told his military service leaders on January 2 that their focus should be "China, China, China".
The Defense Intelligence Agency has released its first-ever unclassified assessment of China's military might.
Should Taiwan decide to declare independence or a foreign country intervenes, China will not hesitate to use force, Zuocheng told Richardson during their meeting, according to the report.
Beijing has signaled for years that it wants Taiwan to be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.
"The result of this multifaceted approach to technology acquisition is a PLA (People's Liberation Army) on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world", the report says. That would include advanced fighter aircraft, ships, missile systems and space and cyberspace capabilities.
After establishing its first overseas naval base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa in August 2017, which now also hosts marines, infantry combat vehicles and helicopters, China is now looking at Pakistan, Cambodia, Vanuatu and other countries for additional military bases to enhance its strategic footprint and emerge as the pre-eminent power in the crucial Indo-Pacific region.
The official called such advancements "concerning", but concluded the Chinese military as a whole remained "a long way" from being in a position to truly challenge the US military.
"Senior Chinese military leadership made that point very clear in a recent meeting with United States military leaders".
"It will take a while for (the PLA) to be able to work these (military) services together, to be able to work these joint theaters and to be able to deal with a large, complex operation", the official said.