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Pentagon warns over China buildup

Pace and scope of modernization surprises analysts, report says

From Mike Mount
CNN

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- China's rapid military buildup could throw off the balance of power in Asia and threaten other countries in the region, according to a Pentagon report on China's military power.

The Pentagon's annual report to Congress says the country's consistent defense spending on aircraft, missiles and ships means China is ever closer to a longer-range military reach.

"Several aspects of China's military development have surprised U.S. analysts, including the pace and scope of its strategic forces modernization," the report says. "China's military expansion is already such as to alter regional military balances." (Watch the Pentagon cast a wary eye on China's buildup -- 2:18)

While China has been expanding its reach with conventional weapons, the country has also improved its nuclear capability with more and improved ballistic missiles.

The report stresses that the country's intention to use them only for defensive purposes has not changed, but it is both "qualitatively and quantitatively" improving its long-range nuclear missile force.

The "Military Power of the People's Republic of China 2006," report also highlights China's immediate focus on planning for "Taiwan Strait contingencies," including the possibility of U.S. intervention.

Taiwan, backed by the United States as its main arms supplier, has a limited Chinese rule. China has long considered the island off its coast to be part of its territory.

The United States has said it would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China, and China has said it would invade if the country officially declared its independence.

The 2006 report says that by late 2005, China had deployed some 710-790 mobile short-range ballistic missiles to garrisons opposite Taiwan, and deployment continues to expand at an average rate of about 100 missiles per year.

China has deployed 400,000 ground-force personnel to the three military regions opposite Taiwan, an increase of 25,000 from last year, according to the report.

It has been upgrading these units with tanks, armored personnel carriers, and a substantial increase in the amount of artillery pieces, the report states.

The country has also increased and upgraded its air forces with planes that can fly faster and farther, totaling about 700 aircraft in range of Taiwan, it says.

China's move to increase its influence over Taiwan and the region has been costly. It publicly says its defense budget for 2006 is up 15 percent from last year, spending about $35 billion.

The Pentagon report says the actual budget is between $70 billion and $105 billion.

This compares with the U.S. military budget which topped $400 billion for 2005.

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