China's military modernisation poses Taiwan threat: US officials
"Preparing for Taiwan contingencies has been a focus in China's military modernisation for some time," acting assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs David Helvey told reporters as Austin headed to Tokyo on Monday.
Beijing's ambitions in the region are expected to top Defense Secretary Austin's agenda in talks with allies in Tokyo, Seoul and New Delhi.
Beijing dismissed those claims, but a senior US defence official pointed Monday to China's efforts to step up its naval capacity, despite the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Just in 2020, in the midst of all the Covid-related stuff, China still commissioned 25 major new ships -- and these were not tug boats or patrol boats," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"These were cruisers, and destroyers and frigates and amphibs and ballistic-missile submarines."
There is a balance
"The first one is the announcement late last year of 2027 as a new interim milestone for PLA (People's Liberation Army) modernisation," he said, noting that it brought the previous timeline forward by eight years.
President Xi Jinping's third term is also expected to end in 2027, he added, calling it a mistake to buy into Chinese messaging on the issue.
"We are deceiving ourselves and we run the risk of falling into a misdirection of Beijing" by doing so, he said.
And a second senior US defence official told reporters Monday that Washington would take a measured approach to the issue.
"There is a balance," he said. "We do not view a violent invasion of Taiwan as good for anybody."
President Joe Biden's administration has also dispatched Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region for talks with allies alongside Austin.
And last week leaders of the so-called Quad, a grouping of the United States, Australia, Japan and India, held talks again putting the spotlight on their calls for a "free and open Indo-Pacific".
The United States also sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait last week, just a day after Davidson's comments, the third such voyage since Biden took office.