China’s military modernization is picking up speed at a pace that seems to favor a shortened timeline for reuniting with Taiwan by force. The U.S. Navy believes that 2027 could be the year China wishes to launch an invasion.
“China’s just throwing so much money into military modernization and has already sped up its timeline to 2027 for when it wants the [PLA] to have the capability to seize Taiwan, that we need to act with a sense of urgency to tackle that threat because that is something unlike anything we’ve seen in modern history, at least,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
While China’s navy is the largest in the world, the U.S. Navy is shrinking.
“And indeed what the Navy’s proposing is to bottom out the force at 280 ships by 2027, at the worst possible moment. The Navy will be weakest when the PLA is strongest vis-à-vis Taiwan. So it makes absolutely no sense,” Gallagher said.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, recently and publicly reaffirmed Beijing’s desire to take Taiwan—and he didn’t mince words in doing so.
“There has been a change in the approach from Beijing toward Taiwan in recent years. And instead of sticking with the status quo that was established in a positive way, a fundamental decision that the status quo was no longer acceptable and that Beijing was determined to pursue reunification on a much faster timeline,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at an event hosted by the Hoover Institution.
“And if peaceful means didn’t work, then it would employ coercive means—and possibly, if coercive means don’t work, maybe forceful means—to achieve its objectives. And that is what is profoundly disrupting the status quo and creating tremendous tensions,” Blinken added.
American wargames have indicated that while China would currently struggle to overpower Taiwan, Beijing’s rapidly expanding stock of anti-ship missiles could soon tip the balance in China’s favor.
Although the United States has taken the stance of strategic ambiguity, preferring to keep its obligations to Taiwan unclear to China, President Joe Biden has recently clarified his position on the island democracy’s defense, explaining that if China attacked Taiwan, the United States would defend the country.
“I think it would be dangerous to say, ‘okay because Russia has encountered unexpected friction in Ukraine that somehow, let’s say China is going to be deterred in a Taiwan scenario,’” Gallagher said. “Because one, Xi Jinping is going to school on the Russian failures in Ukraine. Two, some of the weapons systems that are relevant for Ukraine are also relevant to Taiwan and we’re going winchester on those weapons systems.”
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson.