Top admiral: Possibility China tries to invade Taiwan ‘closer to us than most think’

The possibility of China trying to invade Taiwan could happen sooner than most people think, the admiral nominated to lead U.S. military forces in the Indo-Pacific region said Tuesday.

Adm. John Aquilino, currently the head of U.S. Pacific Fleet, made the comment while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing to become head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (Indo-Pacom).

Asked by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) about a recent prediction from the current head of Indo-Pacom that China could try to invade Taiwan in as little as six years, Aquilino declined to endorse that specific timeline, saying “there’s many numbers out of there” ranging from “today to 2045.”

But Aquilino did suggest he thinks it is liable to happen sooner rather than later, saying Beijing views annexing Taiwan as its “No. 1 priority.”

“The rejuvenation of the Chinese Communist Party is at stake” when it comes to Taiwan, Aquilino said.

“My opinion is this problem is much closer to us than most think, and we have to take this on,” he added, advocating that a multibillion-dollar fund known as the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) be put in place “in the near term and with urgency.”

The current commander of Indo-Pacom, Adm. Philip Davidson, has proposed Congress provide the PDI with about $4.7 billion in fiscal 2022 and about $27 billion through fiscal 2027 to fund items such as an Aegis Ashore missile defense system on Guam, upgrades to training ranges and expanded wargames.

Asked later Tuesday about the Defense Department’s confidence in the military’s ability to prevent China from moving on Taiwan, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declined to “speculate about potential future operations” but said “nobody wants this to result in conflict.”

“The secretary is concerned at the significant changes that have been taking place in the PRC’s strategic forces,” Kirby said, referring to the People’s Republic of China. “And he’s also concerned about the lack of transparency by Beijing about what they’re doing. We would certainly welcome greater transparency about both their intentions and their modernization program. But again, nobody’s interested in seeing this resulting conflict of any kind.”

U.S.-Chinese tensions have picked up in recent weeks as the Biden administration raises concerns with Beijing’s human rights and economic abuses and other aggressive behavior in the Indo-Pacific region.

The administration is also seeking to cooperate with China in areas of mutual concern, such as climate change.

But the Biden administration’s first meeting with Chinese officials, which took place last week in Alaska, quickly turned into a verbal sparring match.

After Davidson’s prediction earlier this month that China could try to invade Taiwan in as little as six years, Beijing accused Washington of hyping up the threat.

“Some U.S. people continue to use the Taiwan issue to hype up China’s military threat,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing, according to Agence France-Presse.

“But in essence this is the U.S. searching for a pretext to increase its military spending, expand its forces and interfere in regional affairs,” he added.

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