Esper: Taiwan ‘not prepared enough’ for conflict with China
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper says Taiwan is “not prepared enough” for a potential Chinese invasion, though he is optimistic the island will get to that point.
Esper, who traveled to Taiwan in July, said this week he met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and “outlined a number of things that I thought they needed to do,” including dramatically increasing the island’s defense budget, increasing the length of conscription for at least a year and stockpiling food and weapons.
“They seem to be on that path, that’s a good thing. Washington is doing similar things with providing arms and additional training,” he told Bloomberg’s Balance of Power.
China has ramped up its aggression toward Taiwan over the past several years, including major military drills around the island this August following Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visit to Taipei.
And Taiwan’s defense ministry said Monday that China had sent 71 planes and seven ships toward the island in a 24-hour display of force.
Beijing’s saber rattling has prompted responses from other nations in the region, as well as the United States.
Earlier this month, Japan announced it would dramatically increase its defense spending to 2 percent of its gross domestic product over the next five years, a total of about $287 billion, to counter actions from China, North Korea and Russia.
Taiwan, meanwhile, announced it will extend its compulsory military service from four months to one year. Tsai also announced updated training for troops, saying that “no one wants war” but Taiwan needs the capability to defend itself.
And the United States on Thursday announced that it had approved the sale of the Volcano system, an anti-tank mine-laying system, to Taiwan. That follows other Taiwan-related provisions in Washington’s annual defense spending bill.
The United States does not formally recognize Taiwan as its own country, though it does keep unofficial ties with the island and has said it would come to its defense in the event it is attacked, prompting China’s ire.
“China threatens the entire geopolitical order in terms of what it wants to see, how it wants to overturn international rules of the road so it’s important that we all stand firm and present a solid defense against Chinese aggression,” Esper said.
He added that the worst-case scenario, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan via water, is a “very, very difficult operation and I don’t believe the Chinese could pull it off at this point in time.”
He was also optimistic of Taiwan’s chances in the event China does invade, pointing to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an example.
“The lesson was, a smaller country that’s well armed, that’s willing to fight and that can mobilize its people can really beat back a tougher, bigger enemy,” he said.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.