WASHINGTON -- China cannot be certain that its military, while steadily strengthening, is capable of conquering Taiwan, the Pentagon said yesterday in a new report on Chinese military power and strategy.
Over the longer term, however, an increasingly modern Chinese military could pose a threat to US and other forces in the Asia Pacific region, it said. ''Some of China's military planners are surveying the strategic landscape beyond Taiwan," the report said.
Among such developments, it noted improvements in Chinese intercontinental-range missiles ''capable of striking targets across the globe, including the United States." Air and naval force improvements also appear to be geared toward operations beyond Taiwan.
Fueled by a booming economy and foreign arms purchases, China's military is developing new capabilities in line with Beijing's strategy of deterring Taiwan from declaring its independence and countering a potential US military intervention, according to the 45-page report, an annual assessment required by Congress.
The short-term focus of China's military is preparing for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait, the report said. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to invade if the self-governing island declares formal independence or resists Beijing's insistence on negotiating a reunification. The United States, which is Taiwan's main arms supplier, has cautioned both countries not to force a change in the status quo.
Kurt Campbell, a senior Asia specialist at the Pentagon during the Clinton administration, said the report is ''slightly more alarmist" than previous Pentagon assessments of China's military. He noted that it focuses on a number of new Chinese capabilities, including a naval buildup.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday, before the release of the report, that it illustrates why a European arms embargo against the Chinese should be kept in place.
Some members of the European Union, have sought an end to the embargo, which was imposed after the Chinese military crushed student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
It ''clearly points up the reason that the president and the United States government have been urging the EU to not lift the arms embargo on the People's Republic of China," Rumsfeld said.
At the White House, President Bush said at a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard that the United States has a relationship with China that is ''very important and very vibrant. It's a good relationship, but it's a complex relationship."
Bush said the United States and Australia ''can work together to reinforce the need for China to accept certain values as universal: the value of minority rights, the value of freedom for people to speak, the value of freedom of religion."
The House, while debating a State Department bill yesterday, accepted without dissent an amendment approving sanctions to deter foreign companies and nations from selling arms to China.
The House defeated a similar bill last week, but changes were made to reassure American defense contractors that they would not be subject to penalties unless they knowingly transfer technologies that could potentially have military applications.
The new assessment of China's military said there are reasons to believe that China would not take military action against Taiwan.
''It does not yet possess the military capability to accomplish with confidence its political objectives on the island, particularly when confronted with outside intervention," it said. Chinese leaders also believe that attacking Taiwan would severely retard China's economic development and lead to instability on the mainland.
Rumsfeld said China is at a strategic crossroad.
He said China needs to be more open, politically and economically, in order to be seen internationally as a more welcome partner.
''To the extent the political system does not [open up], it will inhibit the growth of their economy and ultimately the growth of their military capabilities," he said.