The US military has warned that China is quickly amassing weapons and systems to militarily overwhelm Taiwan within the next six years.
Adm. John Aquilino, the Navy admiral chosen to be the next commander of US forces in the Pacific warned that China considers establishing full control over Taiwan to be its “number one priority” and that China will do it using force within the next six years.
“My opinion is this problem is much closer to us than most think,” Aquilino said before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which was reviewing his nomination to lead the US military’s Indo-Pacific Command.
“We’ve seen aggressive actions earlier than we anticipated, whether it be on the Indian border or whether it be in Hong Kong or whether it be against the Uyghurs. We’ve seen things that I don’t think we expected, and that’s why I continue to talk about a sense of urgency. We ought to be prepared today,” Aquilino said.
Mainland China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the end of a bloody civil war in 1949, but Beijing has vowed to never allow the island to become formally independent and has refused to rule out the use of force if necessary.
“Taiwan is an inalienable part of China,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Senior Col. Wu Qian said in January. “The PLA will take all necessary measures to resolutely defeat any attempt by the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists, and firmly defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Aquilino said Beijing is establishing a track record of using force to achieve Communist Party goals sooner than the US forecast.
China on its part has claimed its military is defensive, despite recently developing the largest Navy in the world.
“The development of China’s national defense aims to meet its rightful security needs and contribute to the growth of the world’s peaceful forces,” the country’s 2019 defense white paper said.
But Beijing has been building a force of warships like helicopter landing docks and large amphibious assault ships that could be useful in taking islands.
Davidson, the current leader US Pacific command in his Senate testimony two weeks ago, has stated that the Chinese military is built for offensive operations.
“I cannot for the life of me understand some of the capabilities that they’re putting in the field unless it is an aggressive posture,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I see them developing systems, capabilities and a posture that would indicate that they’re interested in aggression,” Davidson said.
Aquilino added that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is sharply focused on bringing Taiwan under Beijing’s control.
“The military threat to Taiwan is increasing. The PLA continues to field a broad array of advanced weapons and systems as part of ongoing force modernization specifically intended to achieve decisive overmatch against Taiwan,” the US admiral said in written testimony.
Aquilino, said Washington needs to increase deterrence capabilities in the Pacific, noting that sending US warships through the Taiwan Strait and exercising dual aircraft carrier strike groups in the South China Sea, has not been effective.
“We certainly haven’t changed their desire, nor intent, nor ability to execute the largest military buildup we’ve seen in a while,” Aquilino said.
Asked by senators why the US must defend Taiwan, Aquilino said Washington’s credibility as an ally to places like Japan and the Philippines is at stake if the island were to fall to Beijing. He also said if China takes over Taiwan two-thirds of the world’s trade will be under Chinese control.
“It would negatively impact our standing in the region if that were to happen and it would challenge the rest of our allies and partners and the US, negatively impacting our ability to operate freely in the area,” he said.
The admiral ended the hearing asking the senators to fully fund the Pentagon’s Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which includes new weaponry and defensive measures to the tune of $4.6 billion.
“I do believe that sends a strong message that the entirety of government in the United States is focused on the challenge that we’ve identified as it applies to the western Pacific,” Aquilino said.
Just earlier this month, during a visit to Japan US Secretary of State Antony Blinken listed some of Washington’s grievances with Beijing.
“China uses coercion and aggression to systemically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law,” he added.
“We will push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way.”