A Pentagon report on China’s military power says Beijing is exceeding initial estimates on how quickly it is increasing its nuclear weapons arsenal and is “almost certainly” learning lessons from Russia’s war in Ukraine about what a conflict over Taiwan could be like.

The report, published this Friday (AEDT), also warns that China could be preparing a new intercontinental missile system with conventional weapons that, if implemented, would allow Beijing to “threaten conventional attacks against targets in the continental United States.” Hawaii and Alaska.”

The report was published a month before the expected meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to be held next month in San Francisco.

The annual report, required by the US Congress, is one of the ways for the Pentagon to measure growing Chinese military capabilities, which the US government considers its main threat in the region and the main long-term security challenge for the United States.

But following the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, the United States has once again been forced to focus on the Middle East rather than its widely touted pivot to the Pacific to counter China’s rise. Washington is rushing to supply weapons to Israel while supporting and delivering ammunition to Ukraine in its 20-month fight to repel the Russian invasion.

However, the Pentagon’s national defense strategy is based on the fact that China remains the biggest challenge to US security, and the threat from Beijing will determine the equipment and configuration of the US military for the future.

The Pentagon report builds on last year’s military warning that China was already expanding its nuclear force much faster than U.S. officials had anticipated, highlighting a broad and accelerated buildup of military muscle designed to allow Beijing to match or surpass US global power by mid-century.

Last year’s report warned that Beijing was rapidly modernizing its nuclear force and was on track to nearly quadruple its number of nuclear warheads, reaching 1,500 by 2035. The United States has 3,750 active nuclear warheads.

According to the 2023 report, Beijing is on track to have more than 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030, continuing rapid modernization to meet Xi’s goal of having a “world-class” military by 2049.

Following the previous report, China accused the US of escalating tensions, and Beijing said it remained committed to a “no first use” nuclear weapons policy.

The Pentagon has not seen any indication that China is deviating from that policy. Still, it estimates that there may be some circumstances in which China considers it not applicable, a senior US defense source said without elaborating.

The US does not adhere to a “no first use” policy and states that nuclear weapons would only be used in “extreme circumstances.”

According to the report, China is intensifying military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taiwan and all its neighbors in the region to counter what it sees as efforts by the United States to contain its rise. The pressure on Taipei includes ballistic missile overflights, increased warplane incursions into its international defense zone and a large-scale military exercise last August that surrounded Taiwan.

Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its control by force if necessary. Xi has given his military until 2027 to develop the military capacity needed to retake the democratically self-governed island that the Communist Party claims as its own territory.

The United States has allocated billions of dollars in military weapons to Taiwan to strengthen its defenses and help it repel any possible attack.

But China has also dedicated billions to its military. According to its public budget figures, China’s military spending for 2023 rose 7.2% to 1.58 trillion yuan, or $341 billion, above its economic growth. US officials say the real figure may be much higher. Beijing claims it pursues a defensive military policy to protect its interests.

The report also notes that China has increased its harassment of US warplanes flying in the region’s international airspace, recording more than 180 cases in which Chinese aircraft aggressively intercepted US military flights.

The report focuses on China’s activities in 2022 but analyzes the US overflight of the Chinese spy balloon and how the lack of communication between the two militaries increased the risk of escalation. It does not include the latest war between Israel and Hamas, but it confirms that Beijing is using what it learned from the war between Russia and Ukraine. According to the report, China is working to achieve industrial and economic self-sufficiency after seeing the impact of Western sanctions against Moscow.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “posed a significant and unexpected challenge” to China, the report said, forcing it to measure its relationship and material support to Russia against the “economic or reputational costs” it could incur that would impede its general objective of ascending as a national power.

Tara Copp