Taiwan continues to be the first and foremost target of the People’s Liberation Army, but a Pentagon report says any large-scale invasion is unlikely, as Beijing is in favor of airstrikes including missiles aimed at degrading the defenses and resolve of Taiwan’s leaders and troops.

The Pentagon said in its annual military report on China submitted to Congress last week that Beijing could use force to push the self-ruled Taiwan into unification or at least into unification negotiations with the mainland.

“The PLA could also conduct a more comprehensive campaign designed to force Taiwan to capitulate to unification, or unification dialogue, under China’s terms,” the report said, which stressed that the island remains the PLA’s main direction and serves as one of the geographic areas Beijing identifies as having strategic importance.

The Pentagon is of the view that China’s overall strategy toward Taiwan is to incorporate elements of both persuasion and coercion to hinder the development of political attitudes favoring the island’s independence.

But the report concludes that the prospects of a large-scale amphibious sortie and then invasion by the PLA are low, as Beijing is mindful of straining its armed forces and inviting international intervention like military involvement by the US to assist Taiwan, the island’s de-facto ally.

A PLA pilot. Photo: PLA Daily

“China could use missile attacks and precision airstrikes against [Taiwan’s] air defense systems, including air bases, radar sites, missiles, space assets and communications facilities, to degrade Taiwan’s defenses, neutralize Taiwan’s leadership or break the Taiwan people’s resolve,” the report said.

Taiwan has much smaller military capabilities than China and the gap in both size and technology is widening all the time.

For instance, the PLA has a formidable fleet of 2,600 fighter jets, while Taiwan’s corresponding figure is only 450, according to the Pentagon’s estimates. China also has 450 transport planes, 450 bombers and 150 special mission aircraft, while Taiwan deploys only 30 transport planes and 30 special mission aircraft, and has no bombers.

In the event of a protracted conflict, China might resort to escalating cyberspace and space activities aimed at coercing the island into talks, said the report.

The Pentagon said the US supports a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan-China issues, and under the Taiwan Relations Act, would provide defense articles and services to help Taiwan maintain adequate self-defense capability for asymmetric warfare.

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