(CNSNews.com) - China is mobilizing a large military force in its province nearest to Taiwan as part of a campaign to pressure the island into backing down from recent statements highlighting its equality with the mainland, a Hong Kong-based newspaper reported Thursday.
Thousands of militiamen and reservists had been called up to form part of a planned force of more than 500,000 to be deployed in the Fujian region, across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Straits, the independent South China Morning Post said.
It cited Chinese military sources as saying the government had "yet to decide on any action to be taken against Taiwan," but that the mobilization indicated that a large military engagement had not been ruled out.
Taiwan reportedly mans an army 400,000-strong, while the People's Liberation Army (PLA) boasts the largest force on earth, some 2.5 million. A Chinese newspaper this week reported that Taiwan would not be able to hold out for more than five days should war break out.
On Tuesday, the Taiwanese foreign ministry said Beijing was using newspapers for propaganda purposes, as a form of psychological warfare against the island.
Tensions between Beijing and Taipei have escalated since Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui said last month relations between the two should be conducted on a "special state-to-state" basis.
The apparent shift went against a decades-old "One China" policy, which sees Taiwan's incorporation into the mainland as a desirable and inevitable goal.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. Navy officer on a ship in the region said Wednesday it was unlikely China would attack Taiwan, as it was aware of the consequences of such action.
Speaking during a press conference on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, off Thailand, Rear Admiral Timothy Keating said there was no indication the PLA was intending to use force in the dispute, and that China knew military action would provoke a firm response from the U.S.
"If they attempt to undertake any sort of operation, whether [against] Taiwan or anywhere, they're going to have the U.S. Navy to deal with," he said.
The USS Kitty Hawk and another carrier, USS Constellation will reportedly soon set sail for Japan, via northern Taiwan.
When China fired missiles and carried out military exercises near Taiwan in 1996, the U.S. sent several naval vessels to the area.