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Pentagon warning over China military build-up

China is extending its military advantage over Taiwan and increasingly looking beyond, building up a force with power to strike in Asia as far afield as the US territory of Guam, the Pentagon said.

A soldier passes a Chinese-made Hongqi-2 missile at a museum in Beijing. China is extending its military advantage over Taiwan and increasingly looking beyond, building up a force with the power to strike in Asia as far afield as the US territory of Guam, the Pentagon has said in a report.

In an annual report to Congress, the US Defense Department said Monday that China was ramping up investment in an array of areas including nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, submarines, aircraft carriers and cyber warfare.

"The balance of cross-Strait military forces continues to shift in the mainland's favor," the report said.

The Pentagon said China's military build-up on the Taiwan Strait has "continued unabated" despite improving political and commercial relations since the island elected Beijing-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou in 2008.

Hours after the report was released, Taiwan said Tuesday it was "closely monitoring" China's arms build-up.

"China has not given up the use of force against Taiwan, and we are closely monitoring China's military developments. We ask the public to rest assured," defense ministry spokesman Yu Sy-tue told AFP.

The report -- which US officials delayed for five months amid strains with China -- covered 2009, before the United States approved a 6.4 billion-dollar arms package for the island in January.

A recent arms sale from the US to Taiwan did not include F-16 fighter-jets, which the island and many US analysts say are crucial to to counter China's strategic military build-up.

China considers Taiwan, where the mainland's defeated nationalists fled in 1949, to be a province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

The military report said China was "already looking at contingencies beyond Taiwan," including through a longstanding project to build a far-reaching missile that could potentially strike US carriers deep in the Pacific.

"Current trends in China's military capabilities are a major factor in changing East Asian military balances and could provide China with a force capable of conducting a range of military operations in Asia well beyond Taiwan," it said.

China's military doctrine has traditionally emphasized the ability to strike within an area extending to Japan's Okinawa island chain and throughout the South China Sea east of Vietnam, the report said.

But Chinese strategists are now looking to expand their reach further to be able to hit targets as far away as Guam, including much of mainland Japan and the Philippines, it said.

China is working on the longer-range precision missile, but probably needs more work on the technical infrastructure to put the weapon into use, an official who helped draft the report said on condition of anonymity.

File picture of Taiwanese navy crew in front of new missile-carrying boats. Taiwan says the vessels have "stealth" technology to boost the island's defences against rival China.

Japan and Vietnam, which both have historic tensions with China, have reported rising incidents with China's military in recent months.

The report predicted that China may step up patrols in the South China Sea. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month in Vietnam backed open access to the sea, triggering a rebuke by Beijing.

The Pentagon report credited China with becoming slightly more open but reiterated concerns about an overall lack of transparency.

In March this year, China said it was raising its defense budget by 7.5 percent to 532.1 billion yuan -- 77.9 billion dollars at the exchange rate at the time -- breaking a string of double-digit increases.

The Pentagon study was cautious on suggestions that China's military was partaking in national belt-tightening, saying that the spending growth may be lower simply because the forces were at the end of a five-year program.

The Pentagon paper estimated that China's overall military-related spending was more than 150 billion dollars in 2009 when including areas that do not figure in the publicly released budget.

A soldier is seen during an annual military drill in Hsinchu, Taiwan. Ties between the island and China have improved markedly since Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008 on a Beijing-friendly platform.

It is still far below the US defense budget, the world's largest, which is more than 700 billion dollars in the fiscal year beginning in October.

President Barack Obama's administration has sought to broaden cooperation with China, but bilateral military exchanges were broken off after the US agreed an arms package with Taiwan that included helicopters, missile defenses and mine-sweepers.

The Pentagon said it wanted dialogue with China to avoid any "miscalculation" between the two militaries.

"We stand prepared to work with the Chinese if they are prepared to work with us," the anonymous official said. "But it only does us so much good to show up to a meeting if we're the only ones that are there."

The Taiwan arms sale did not include F-16 fighter-jets, which the island and many US analysts say are crucial to narrowing the strategic gap with Beijing.