WASHINGTON • The Pentagon has sounded a warning over China's plans to introduce floating nuclear power plants on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
In a new annual report assessing the nation's military strength released on Thursday, it said Chinese bombers are also likely training for strikes against US and allied targets in the Pacific.
"China's plans to power these islands may add a nuclear element to the territorial dispute," the Pentagon said in its 2018 report to Congress titled "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China".
"China indicated development plans may be under way to power islands and reefs in the typhoon-prone South China Sea with floating nuclear power stations; development reportedly is to begin prior to 2020."
China Securities Journal - a Chinese state-run financial newspaper - said in 2016 that China could build up to 20 floating nuclear plants to "speed up the commercial development" of the South China Sea, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.
Beijing claims more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea, which carries around US$3.4 trillion (S$4.7 trillion) worth of global trade each year. Five other countries - including the Philippines and Vietnam - also have claims in the waters.
Beijing claims more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea, which carries around US$3.4 trillion (S$4.7 trillion) worth of global trade each year... China has reclaimed 1,295ha of land in the Spratly island chain and militarised it with ports, runways and other military infrastructure.
US-China military ties have deteriorated of late, with the Trump administration in May revoking an invitation for Beijing to join in Pacific naval exercises due to its activities in disputed parts of the sea.
China has reclaimed 1,295ha of land in the Spratly island chain and militarised it with ports, runways and other military infrastructure. In the case of its air power, the report states that Chinese bombers are developing capabilities to hit targets as far from China as possible.
"Over the last three years, the PLA (People's Liberation Army) has rapidly expanded its overwater bomber operating areas, gaining experience in critical maritime regions and likely training for strikes against US and allied targets," it stated, noting how China is pushing its operations out into the Pacific.
The PLA may demonstrate the "capability to strike US and allied forces and military bases in the western Pacific Ocean, including Guam", the report said.
In August last year, six Chinese H-6K bombers flew through the Miyako Strait in the south-west of the Japanese islands, and then for the first time turned north to fly east of Okinawa, where 47,000 US troops are based.
China is engaged in a decades-long build-up and modernisation of its once backward armed forces, and military leaders have set a goal of fielding a world-class military by 2050. Chinese President Xi Jinping last year ordered the PLA to step up efforts, saying China needed a military ready to "fight and win" wars.
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE