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US Indo-Pacific Commander: Russia has suffered heavy economic sanctions due to its invasion of Ukraine, and if China invades Taiwan, it may suffer 500 times more devastating effects

Profile photo: Admiral Aquilino, then commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, speaks at a press conference in Bangkok. (13 December 2019)
Profile photo: Admiral Aquilino, then commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, speaks at a press conference in Bangkok. (13 December 2019)

WASHINGTON — China’s growing military, economic and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan has led to growing concerns about a possible Chinese attack on Taiwan. Admiral Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, recently said that if China invades Taiwan, its economy could suffer “500 times more” the devastating effects of economic sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday (Dec. 13) that 29 sorties of Chinese military aircraft and three warships moved around Taiwan in a 24-hour period, of which 21 entered Taiwan’s southwest air defense identification zone, including 18 PLA H-6 bombers capable of carrying nuclear warheads, which is also the highest number of bombing sorties in a single day since the Taiwanese military began releasing data on PLA intrusion into Taiwan’s perimeter aircraft and ships in September 2020.

Taiwan is the first red line in Sino-US relations

During two-day talks this week with Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for Asia-Pacific affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and Laura Rosenberger, senior director for China and Taiwan affairs at the White House National Security Council, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng again warned the United States that “the Taiwan issue is at the core of China’s core interests, the foundation of the political foundation of U.S.-China relations, and the first insurmountable red line in U.S.-China relations.” ”

China claims Taiwan as an integral part of its territory, and after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many fear that other authoritarian states will take inspiration from Russia to invade its immediate neighbors as well.

According to the National Defense Survey, released December 1 by the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Research Institute in California, 70 percent of the 2,500 American adults surveyed expressed specific concerns about a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the next five years.

2027 is exactly the timeline for China to launch military action against Taiwan by 2027, known as the Davidson window, which Adm. Phil Davidson, then commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warned at a congressional hearing last March.

The timetable is not important because you need to prepare for the battle at any time

But Mr. Davidson’s successor, Gen. Adm. John Aquillino, now commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said the timeline for China’s invasion of Taiwan was “hardly important.” ”

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On December 3, at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum that followed the release of the Defense Investigation, moderator Idrees Ali, a Reuters national security and foreign policy correspondent, asked Aquilino what many were talking about the timeline for China’s invasion of Taiwan, “Will it be 2027, or sooner or later?” ”

Aquilino said he was asked this question a lot, and he gave the same answer every time, which is that if he knew the answer, he wouldn’t be sitting here but in Las Vegas.

“All I can tell you is that Secretary Austin has given us a mission, the first of which is to avoid conflict with the People’s Republic of China by enforcing our deterrence options. If deterrence fails, then it is necessary to be able to fight one of the wars in our country. So to me, the timeline is almost unimportant, because we do have to be ready today, and we’re taking all those actions,” Equilino said.

Why did Americans sacrifice their lives for Taiwan?

Ali also asked Aquilino before this question, “Why should the United States care about Taiwan?” Why should U.S. military personnel risk potentially sacrifice their lives for Taiwan? ”

The US admiral replied that for the military, the first thing to look at is: what is the national interest of the United States.

“This region of this island is of geographical and strategic importance to the importance of the battlefield,” he said. It has economic capabilities that are important to the U.S. economy. It is a thriving democracy. It’s about America’s position in the region, and it’s about our ability to support allies, partners, and friends. There are many reasons why we think it is important. ”

But General Aquilino also pointed out that how the United States would respond in the event of a conflict is a matter of policy, but fundamentally, Taiwan is an important place for everyone because it involves those national interests and things that are important to the United States.

Responding to conflicts in the Taiwan Strait requires a sense of urgency

In addition, when talking about what the U.S. military has learned from the war in Ukraine, Aquilino said that the most important lesson he has learned is that what happens in Europe can happen in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Once the war starts, it will be difficult to end, which means we should act now.” We must have a sense of urgency and move quickly on troop strength, capabilities, industrial base, budgets, and all that must be done now to meet the objectives of deterrence and make that deterrence sustainable. Because once the crisis begins, the situation becomes complicated. ”

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In addition to these revelations, General Aquilino said the United States also has commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act that must be observed. He also talked about what he hoped the Chinese generals wants to learn from the war in Ukraine.

“The first is that it is very complex to take a military operation of this magnitude. When I say complex, I mean that everyone is surprised by the performance of the Russian army, so the PRC should not underestimate how difficult it will be to carry out such an operation and reach its goals. The second is that it must pay in blood and wealth, which the leadership must explain to their people. ”

Going to war will cost in blood and wealth

Aquilino said China has its own internal problems that will complicate its decision on whether to start a war, but whenever it does, it will inevitably cost bloodshed and wealth. Looking at the impact of U.S. economic sanctions on Russia on its economy and China’s close relationship with the global economy, he said, “we could see 500 times more devastating effects.” ”

However, the host Ali immediately followed up and asked Aquilino: Relatively speaking, because the United States is as closely linked to China’s economy, once economic sanctions are imposed on China, the United States will also hurt its own economy, so from China’s point of view, the United States must carefully consider the possible consequences. He went on to ask, “Have you seriously considered the consequences for the United States, of this, a potential conflict: If the United States were to help defend Taiwan, it could also result in a massive American sacrifice of life?”

“We certainly thought about it seriously,” Aquilino said.

“What I can say more about is our relationship with our allies economically. If you just take into account the economies of Japan, the United States, and South Korea, they already dwarf China’s economy, and it is even far from it. So when you think about more like-minded countries coming together to do things that are economical, that’s going to be a very powerful and very tough problem that makes it very difficult for China to deal with. ”

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Xi must consider fame and political legacy

Finally, Aquilino raised the issue of reputation. He said fame is very important to Chinese President Xi Jinping. “What impact will this have on his political legacy? At this moment, what does it mean for the Chinese people if they start another illegal war? ”

He believes these are lessons that Russian President Vladimir Putin has learned, and he hopes China’s leaders will understand them as well.

On December 1, 2022, the Reagan Foundation of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library released the findings of the 2022 Defense Survey on how China should respond if it invades Taiwan and the United States. (Reagan Foundation web screenshot)
On December 1, 2022, the Reagan Foundation of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library released the findings of the 2022 Defense Survey on how China should respond if it invades Taiwan and the United States. (Reagan Foundation web screenshot)

In the Reagan Institution’s defense survey, if China invades Taiwan, the “non-war” option is the most supported among the various possible U.S. responses, in order of support: “formally recognize Taiwan as an independent state” (73%), “impose economic sanctions on China” (60%), “provide Taiwan with more military equipment, as the United States provides Ukraine” (56%), “move U.S. military assets to the region” (52%), “establish a no-fly zone around the perimeter” (46%). and “pledges to send U.S. ground troops to defend Taiwan” (43%).

“A majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, support efforts to deter China’s invasion of Taiwan, including 61 percent who support an increased presence of U.S. troops near Taiwan; 58 percent support increased arms sales to Taiwan. If China invaded Taiwan, 43 percent supported a commitment to send U.S. ground troops to defend Taiwan, while 36 percent opposed it. But after learning that Taiwan is a democracy and the world’s largest manufacturer of advanced semiconductors, 65 percent said they remained open to sending U.S. troops,” the survey said.

The United States is increasing its efforts to help strengthen Taiwan’s defense capabilities. The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year 2023, which includes $10 billion in military aid funding for Taiwan over five years. The Chinese government has expressed “firm opposition” to the bill and asked the US side to “delete the negative China-related content of the bill.”

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