AFP, WASHINGTON: China's military buildup could tilt the strategic balance with Taiwan and also threaten US forces in Asia, CIA director Porter Goss said.

“Beijing's military modernisation and military buildup could tilt the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait,” Goss told a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“Improved Chinese capabilities threaten US forces in the region,” he added in testimony to the committee assessing the main security threats to the United States.

Goss said that China is stepping efforts to “develop robust, survivable nuclear armed missiles as well as conventional capability for use in regional conflicts.”

He added: “If Beijing decides that Taiwan is taking steps toward permanent separation that excedes Beijing's tolerance, we assess China is prepared to respond with varying levels of force.”

China has stepped up warnings to Taiwan in recent months about moves toward what it fears could be a declaration of independence. Nationalists split from China in 1949, after the end of the Chinese civil war, and set up their base in Taiwan.

The Beijing leadership has warned many times that it would use force to stop Taiwan making a formal breakaway.

“China is increasingly confident and active on the international stage,” said Goss, “trying to ensure that it has a voice on international issues and secures access to natural resources and to counter what it sees as United States' efforts to contain or encircle it.”