WASHINGTON (AP) – The US military is warning that China is likely accelerating its schedule to seize control of Taiwan, the democratic island that has been the main source of tension between Washington and Beijing. for decades and is widely seen as the most likely trigger for a potentially catastrophic war between the United States and China.
The concern for Taiwan comes as China exerts a new force after years of military development. He has become more aggressive with Taiwan and more assertive in sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea.. Beijing has also become more confrontational with Washington; Senior Chinese officials traded sharp and unusually public spikes with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in talks in Alaska last month.
However, a military move against Taiwan would be proof of US support for the island that Beijing considers a separatist province. For the Biden administration, it could present the option of abandoning a friendly and democratic entity or risking what could turn into all-out war for a cause that is not on the radar of most Americans. The United States has long been committed to helping Taiwan defend itself, but has deliberately failed to make clear how far it would go in response to a Chinese attack.
This accumulation of concerns dovetails with the administration’s view that China is a front-line challenge for the United States and that it must be done sooner, militarily, diplomatically, and by other means, to deter Beijing from its attempt to supplant states. United as the predominant power. in Asia. Some US military leaders see Taiwan as potentially the most immediate flash point.
“We have indications that the risks are actually increasing,” Admiral Philip Davidson, the highest-ranking US military commander in the Asia-Pacific region, said last month on a Senate panel, referring to a Chinese military move. in Taiwan.
“The threat manifests itself in this decade, in fact, in the next six years,” Davidson said.
Days later, Davidson’s long-awaited successor, Admiral John Aquilino, declined to endorse the six-year term, but told senators at their confirmation hearing: “My view is that this issue is much closer to us than it is. most think. “
Officials in the Biden administration have spoken less directly, but emphasize an intention to deepen ties with Taiwan, prompting warnings from Beijing against outside interference in what it sees as an internal matter.
On Wednesday, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said the military threat against his country is increasing, and while he said it was not yet “particularly alarming,” the Chinese military in recent years has been carrying out the same. which he called “actual combat”. type ”exercises closer to the island.
“We are ready to defend ourselves, that is without question,” Wu told reporters. “We will fight a war if we need to fight a war, and if we need to defend ourselves until the last day, then we will defend ourselves until the last day.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin he calls China the “rhythm threat” to the United States, and the military services are adjusting accordingly. The Marine Corps, for example, is reshaping itself with China and Russia in mind after two decades of ground combat against extremists in the Middle East.
Hardly one aspect of China’s military modernization has failed to irritate the US military. Admiral Charles Richard, who as head of the US Strategic Command is responsible for US nuclear forces, wrote in a recent essay that China is on its way to becoming a “strategic peer” of the United States. He said China’s nuclear weapons arsenal is expected to double “if it does not triple or quadruple” in the next 10 years, although that goes beyond the official Pentagon view that the arsenal “will at least double” in that period.
Taiwan, however, is considered the most pressing problem.
US officials have noted actions by the People’s Liberation Army that appear designed to shake up Taiwan. For example, Chinese air raids, including flying around the island, are an almost daily occurrence, serving to publicize the threat, wear down Taiwanese pilots and planes, and learn more about Taiwan’s capabilities.
Chinese officials have scoffed at Davidson’s comments about Taiwan. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Colonel Ren Guoqiang, urged Washington to “abandon zero peace thinking” and do more to build mutual trust and stability. He said that “attempts by outside forces to use Taiwan to try to restrain China, or the use of Taiwanese independence forces to use military means to achieve independence, are all dead ends.”
The implications of a Chinese military move against Taiwan and its 23 million people are so profound and potentially dire that Beijing and Washington have long achieved a fragile middle ground: Taiwanese political autonomy that excludes control of Beijing but falls short of the formal independence.
Predictions of when China might decide to try to force Taiwan to rejoin the mainland have long varied, and there is no uniform view in the United States. Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said last week that he doubts Chinese leaders are willing to push the issue.
“I don’t think it will come soon,” he said.
The Trump administration took a number of steps to demonstrate a stronger commitment to Taiwan, including sending a cabinet member to Taipei last year, making him the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island since formal diplomatic relations were cut in 1979 in deference to China. . The Biden administration says it wants to cooperate with China whenever possible, but has voiced its objections to a wide range of Chinese actions.
Last week, the US ambassador to the Pacific island nation of Palau, John Hennessey-Niland, became the first serving US ambassador to visit Taiwan. since Washington cut ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing.
China is a frequent target of criticism in Congress. The concern to counteract its growing military might is reflected in the approval of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, funded with 2.2 billion dollars by 2021. Davidson wants you to support, among other initiatives, the establishment of a better air defense system to protect the US territory of Guam from Chinese missiles. and preserve US military dominance in the region.
Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is skeptical about the military’s fixation on dominance.
“Given the way the world works now, for one country to be dominant is desperately unrealistic,” he said in a recent online forum sponsored by Meridian, a center for nonpartisan diplomacy. He said the US military can maintain enough force, in partnership with the allies, to send the message: “China, don’t invade Taiwan because the price you’re going to pay is not worth it.”
Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu in Beijing, AP writer Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, and AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.