The head of America's Pacific forces yesterday warned of grave casualties and economic consequences if the mainland tried to invade Taiwan. Admiral Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command, said a mainland invasion would fail but a growing missile programme still posed a significant threat. 'Any sort of conflict in that part of the world would cause a lot of damage and casualties, and that would be the effect of it,' Admiral Blair said on the eve of his trip with Secretary of Defence, William Cohen, through Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Hong Kong. 'It would cause terrific economic hardship, both for Taiwan and also China itself in the sort of international reaction to it . . . and it knows that conflict would result in destroying all the progress it's making in terms of joining the world economy.' Admiral Blair's comments came amid a plea for further effort to find peaceful, diplomatic solutions to reunification following the publication of a mainland White Paper that threatened force if Taipei dragged its feet on reunification. He will be pushing the need for moderation on his swing through the region, which follows a recent visit to Beijing. But Admiral Blair also said Beijing officials had insisted they were committed to peace and told him to not 'read too much' into 'personal opinions' published in mainland military periodicals. Some have recently warned of missile strikes against the continental US, as well as attacks on aircraft battle groups, America's key projection of power. While expressing serious doubts about China's ability to stage a successful invasion across the Taiwan Strait, Admiral Blair confirmed reports of an escalation in short-range missiles on the coast. He said China was expanding its arsenals directed towards Taiwan by about 50 missiles a year. 'So I think it's a mixed picture. They've got people who are working on their military preparations,' he said. 'But I think their overall thrust is toward a peaceful resolution. 'And I think their statement in the White Paper [on Taiwan] is something they believe, that they think force is an ultimate weapon in their tool kit. 'But I don't see near-term sorts of preparations to use it,' Admiral Blair added.