While China’s priority appears to still be regional rule, the Asian giant is continuing to modernize its force and expand its military influence on a more global scale through exercises, counter-piracy and other operations, a newly released Pentagon report says.

“The People’s Republic Of China (PRC) continues to pursue a long-term, comprehensive military modernization program designed to improve the capacity of its armed forces to fight and win short-duration, high-intensity regional military conflict,” the Pentagon says in its annual report to Congress, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2013,” released May 6.

Preparing for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait appears to remain the principal focus and primary driver of China’s military investment, the Pentagon reports.

“Dealing with a potential contingency in the Taiwan Strait remains the PLA’s (Chinese People’s Liberation Army) primary mission despite decreasing tensions there – a trend which continued following the re-election of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in January 2012,” the report says. “In this context, should deterrence fail, the PLA could be called upon to compel Taiwan to abandon independence or to reunify with the mainland by force of arms while defeating any third-party intervention on Taiwan’s behalf.”

But now China has much more than Taiwan on its radar.

“However, as China’s interests have grown and as it has gained greater influence in the international system, its military modernization has also become increasingly focused on investments in military capabilities to conduct a wider range of missions beyond its immediate territorial concerns, including counter-piracy, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, and regional military operations,” the Pentagon reports.

“Some of these missions and capabilities can address international security challenges, while others could serve more narrowly-defined PRC interests and objectives, including advancing territorial claims and building influence abroad,” the Pentagon says.

To support the PLA’s expanding set of roles and missions, China’s leaders in 2012 sustained investment in advanced short- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles, land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles, counter-space weapons, and military cyberspace capabilities, the Pentagon says, which “appear designed to enable anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) missions (what PLA strategists refer to as ‘counter-intervention operations).”

The PLA also continued to improve capabilities in nuclear deterrence and long-range conventional strike; advanced fighter aircraft; limited regional power projection, with the commissioning of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning; integrated air defenses; undersea warfare; improved command and control; and more sophisticated training and exercises across China’s air, naval, and land forces, the Pentagon reports.

PLA participation in bilateral and multilateral exercises is increasing, the Pentagon says.

“The PLA derives political benefit through increased influence and enhanced ties with partner states and organizations,” the Pentagon reports. “Such exercises provide the PLA opportunities to improve capabilities and gain operational insights by observing tactics, command decision-making, and equipment used by more advanced militaries.”

In 2011 and 2012, the Pentagon says, the PLA held 21 joint exercise and training events with foreign militaries, compared to 32 during the entire Five-Year Plan period (2006-2010).