During his confirmation hearing, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he believes a Chinese military assault on Taiwan is on the horizon. “The most dangerous concern is that of a military force against Taiwan. To combat that, the forward posture west of the international dateline is how Adm. Davidson describes it – and I concur with that – forces positioned to be able to respond quickly, and not just our forces,”Adm. Aquilino explained.
Aquilino’s assessment referenced an earlier statement also given to the Senate Armed Services Committee by Adm. Philip Davison in which the Admiral stated that he expected a conflict between Taiwan and China could erupt within this decade, and as soon as in the next six years.
In particular, Davidson is worried that China would move quickly in “their ambitions to supplant the United States and our leadership role in the rules-based international order, which they’ve long said that they want to do that by 2050. I’m worried about them moving that target closer.” Furthermore, Davidson postulated that “Taiwan is clearly one of their ambitions before then. And I think the threat is manifest during this decade, in fact in the next six years.”
Adm. Davidson and Aquilino are also in agreement about the potential utility of recessing the United States’ strategic ambiguity in relation to Taiwan’s defense. The United States has supplied Taiwan with a number of weapons deals over the years, though int the event of a conflict, the democratic island nation does not have explicit assurances of military aid from the United States.
Most recently, Taiwan upgraded their F-16 fleet to the F-16V standard with the help of American aerospace and defense companies, and is set to acquire more of the advanced fourth-generation fighter. This fighter upgrade came on the heels of a series of three arms deals, cumulatively worth $1.8 billion that included HIMARS mobile rocket launchers, Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER), and electronic reconnaissance equipment.
Crossing the Formosa Strait from mainland China to Taiwan would be no easy task, and casualties in terms of ships and lives lost would likely be steep. But despite Taiwan’s recent weapons upgrades and acquisitions, would it be enough to keep China at bay? Probably not. Would more concrete assurances from the United States and other countries concerning Taiwan’s preservation be enough to hold back a Chinese invasion? Perhaps. What is likely certain however, is that Beijing has both eyes laser-focused on Taiwan.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.