A top U.S. admiral warned lawmakers Tuesday that the possibility of China attempting to invade and annex Taiwan is a “critical concern” and could happen sooner than most people think.
Adm. John Aquilino, currently the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was responding to questions from Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee to become head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
“Why would Beijing so desire to have Taiwan annexed to the mainland, and how would it complicate your military planning if Beijing did invade and annex Taiwan?” Cotton asked.
“They view it as their number one priority,” Aquilino responded, referring to China’s likely future attempt to annex Taiwan. “The rejuvenation of the Chinese Communist Party is at stake.”
When Cotton asked about a recent prediction from Adm. Philip Davidson, the current head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, that China could attempt to invade Taiwan within the next six years, Aquilino did not endorse that specific timeline. He said “there’s many numbers out there” for a potential invasion timeline ranging from “today to 2045.”
Aquilino later called for a nearly $5 billion fund known as the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) to be instituted “in the near term and with urgency.” The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command submitted a budget for PDI to Congress in early March that included $27 billion in proposed spending through 2027. The initiative aims to bolster U.S. military capabilities in the Pacific with the ultimate aim of deterring Chinese aggression, particularly an invasion of Taiwan.
When asked about the Defense Department’s confidence in preventing a Chinese invasion of Taiwan during a press briefing Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declined to “speculate about potential future operations” but said “nobody wants this to result in conflict.” (RELATED: ‘China Will Expand Its Aggressive Stance’: Taiwan A Red Line, Biden Must Be Strong, Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Says)
“[Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin] is concerned at the significant changes that have been taking place in [China’s] strategic forces,” Kirby told reporters. “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.”
China and Taiwan have contested sovereignty over the Chinese mainland for decades. Beijing has repeatedly warned that Taiwan’s continued efforts to assert its independence would mean war. Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly told the military earlier in March to “be prepared” for conflict amid an “unstable” security situation.
Tensions between the U.S. and China have similarly flared up in recent weeks as the Biden administration takes on China over its human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, along with its economic practices and military buildup in the Indo-Pacific.