The US military must be ready to respond to a potential invasion of Taiwan as soon as this year, a senior admiral said Wednesday, signaling heightened alarm over Beijing’s intentions towards the island.
Admiral Michael Gilday, chief of US naval operations, is the latest senior official in Washington to raise concerns that China’s President Xi Jinping may be much more willing than previously thought to seize Taiwan.
His comments came as Taiwan’s top security official warned any attempt to invade the island would fail and turn China into an international pariah.
Xi is on the cusp of securing a third five-year term at the helm of the world’s most populous nation, delivering a landmark Communist Party Congress speech on Sunday where he restated his vow to one day “reunify,” or forcefully take, Taiwan.
In a discussion with a think-tank, Gilday was asked about Xi’s speech and whether he agreed with comments by another US admiral that Beijing would be ready to take Taiwan by 2027.
“It’s not just what President Xi says, it’s how the Chinese behave and what they do,” Gilday told the Atlantic Council.
“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,” he added.
“I can’t rule that out. I don’t mean at all to be alarmist by saying that. It’s just that we can’t wish that away.”
China’s Communist Party has never controlled Taiwan but it claims the self-ruled island as its own.
Taiwan is not a treaty ally of the United States, but Congress is bound by law to sell Taipei defensive weapons and there is bipartisan support for protecting what has become a progressive democracy and vital global trade partner.
Beijing’s stance has long been that it seeks “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan but reserves the right to use force if necessary, especially if the island formally declares independence.
The rhetoric and actions towards Taiwan have become more pronounced under Xi, China’s most assertive leader in a generation, and the military has ramped up equipment purchases aimed at pulling off an invasion.
Xi has tied taking Taiwan to his vision of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and said the goal of reunification cannot continue to be passed indefinitely from generation to generation.
Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, which China has not condemned, has also raised fears that Beijing might take similar moves against Taiwan’s 23 million people.
Military analysts have long warned that even with strength in numbers invading Taiwan is a difficult task, given its location and terrain.
Taiwan’s national security chief Chen Ming-tong echoed that sentiment and delivered his own warning to Xi.
“I want to solemnly tell the Beijing authorities that there is no chance of winning to attack Taiwan by force,” he told reporters on Thursday in Taipei.
“It would lead to international economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation, ruining his (Xi’s) ‘great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’ and making him a sinner of the Chinese nation.”
On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Beijing wants to seize Taiwan “on a much faster timeline” than previously considered, adding that “a very different China” had emerged under Xi.
Blinken also warned any war over Taiwan would have an “enormous” impact on global trade.