Recent warnings from the US chief of naval operations (CNO) that China could invade Taiwan as early as 2022 or 2023 do not square with the lack of urgency implicit in President Joe Biden’s National Security Strategy (NSS). Whereas the NSS addresses the China-Taiwan-US relationship in terms of establishing and maintaining the status quo, China’s President Xi Jinping, after his precedent-setting win of a third term in office, sees the relationship differently. Xi intends to reunify Taiwan with mainland China, bringing the Taipei democratic government under the iron fist of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) autocracy.
China Not Confused About Its Intentions
In a two-hour speech laying out his vision for the CCP and China, Xi addressed his intentions on Taiwan:
“We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and the utmost effort, but we will never promise to renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary. The wheels of history are rolling on toward China’s reunification and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The complete reunification of our country must be realized, and it can without a doubt be realized.”
Beijing’s boss is not prone to bluster. His words do not sound like rhetoric from a leader embracing the status quo or anything short of complete control of the island nation. But does the Biden administration understand what Xi is making crystal clear? Where is the US national security team’s thinking in the face of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) unmistakable intentions toward the Taipei government?
“A rosy perspective is baked into the language, along with hopes that the US can work with China on nearly everything: ‘climate, pandemic threats, nonproliferation, countering illicit and illegal narcotics, the global food crisis, and macroeconomic issues,'” is how Nadia Schadlow, a fellow at the Hudson Institute and the Hoover Institution explained the current White House’s unrealistic approach to China in her recent Wall Street Journal article, “Biden’s National Security Strategy Is Undone by Fantasy.”
CNO Believes Threats From China
However, some members of the Biden administration are listening and hearing the PRC leadership loud and clear. CNO Admiral Michael Gilday, in remarks to the Atlantic Council’s Commanders Series on Oct. 19, warned of a much-accelerated Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Discussing the timing for a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attack on the island, the admiral explained:
“I will say this, it’s not just what President Xi says, but it’s how the Chinese behave and what they do. And what we’ve seen over the past 20 years is that they have delivered on every promise they’ve made earlier than they said they were going to deliver on it. So, when we talk about the 2027 window, in my mind that has to be a 2022 window, or potentially a 2023 window. I can’t rule that out.”
The China threat to Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific will challenge the US Navy to deter the PLA naval and air forces with the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean as the battle arena. Getting to the fight with effective weaponry, warfighters, and equipment will put significant demands on US naval warships, airlift aircraft, and logistics infrastructure. Therefore, Gilday is prudent to push the US Defense Department to be constantly vigilant and ready to join with Taiwanese armed forces and regional allies to anticipate and thwart a Xi-inspired invasion. It’s time for the whole US national security team to get on the same page as the CNO. China must be addressed with a strategy and readiness that is less aspirational and more realistic.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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