The speed with which U.S. ground forces captured Baghdad (search) and the prominent role played in Iraq by U.S. commandos, have led China to rethink how it could counteract the American military in the event of a confrontation over Taiwan (search), the Pentagon says.

The Chinese also believe, partly from its assessment of the Bush administration's declared war on terrorism, that the United States is increasingly likely to intervene in a conflict over Taiwan or other Chinese interests, according to the Pentagon analysis.

"Authoritative commentary and speeches by senior officials suggest that U.S. actions over the past decade ... have reinforced fears within the Chinese leadership that the United States would appeal to human rights and humanitarian concerns to intervene, either overtly or covertly," said the Pentagon.

The assessments are in an annual Defense Department report to Congress on Chinese military power. The Pentagon took the unusual step of releasing the report late Saturday night.

The report said China (search) is rethinking the concept that U.S. airpower alone is sufficient to prevail in a conflict -- a concept it inferred from the 1999 air war over Kosovo (search), which involved no U.S. ground forces.

"The speed of coalition ground force advances and the role of special forces in [Iraq] have caused the People's Liberation Army (search) theorists to rethink their assumptions about the value of long-range precision strikes, independent of ground forces, in any Taiwan conflict scenario," the report said.

Other aspects of the Iraq war have reinforced the Chinese belief that the United States' long-range strategy is to dominate Asia by containing the growth of Chinese power, the report said. These include recent Pentagon decisions to base long-range bombers, cruise missiles and nuclear attack submarines to the Pacific island of Guam -- moves related in part to the Iraq conflict.

"China's leaders appear to have concluded that the net effect of the U.S.-led campaign [against terrorism] has been further encirclement of China," specifically by placing U.S. military forces in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian nations, and strengthening relations with Pakistan and India, concluded the Pentagon analysis.

Because China's leaders believe their military forces are not yet strong enough to compete directly with the American military, they are putting more emphasis on preventing U.S. intervention first. This includes development of what the Chinese call "assassin's mace" weapons, the Pentagon said.

The report said U.S. officials are not sure what "assassin's mace" is.

"However, the concept appears to include a range of weapon systems and technologies related to information warfare, ballistic and anti-ship cruise missiles, advanced fighters and submarines, counterspace system and air defense," according to the Pentagon.

The report said that while the concept of "assassin's mace" is not new in China, it has appeared more frequently in Chinese professional journals since 1999, particularly in the context of Taiwan, the U.S.-supported island which split from China after its communist takeover in 1949.

Beijing considers Taiwan to be Chinese territory and has threatened to take it by force.

In Beijing on Sunday, officials said President Bush had reassured Chinese officials that Washington will stick to its "one-China policy" toward Taiwan. That long-standing policy says the American government recognizes Beijing as the only legitimate Chinese government, although the United States also has pledged to provide enough defensive equipment to Taiwan to assure its security.

Bush's comments to Chinese President Hu Jintao, released by China's Foreign Ministry, appeared to be an attempt to soothe Beijing's anger over Washington's decision to permit Taiwanese Vice President Annette Lu to stop in two U.S. cities before and after a Latin America tour.

The Pentagon for several years has expressed concern at China's military modernization, especially its emphasis on deploying more shorter-range ballistic missiles that can strike Taiwan.

The latest Pentagon report also said that since it last reported to Congress a year ago, China's imports of armaments have increase by 7 percent in value. These include a $1 billion deal for 24 Russian Su-30 fighter aircraft and $500 million for Russian SA-20 surface-to-air missile systems.