The Corner


The Taiwan Emergency, Explained by a Top Commander

A soldier stands guard during Combat Readiness Week drills in Hsinchu, Taiwan, October 29, 2020. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

Yesterday’s exchange between Admiral John Aquilino, who has been nominated to lead the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command, and Senator Tom Cotton provides another look at military planners’ expectations about a potential invasion of Taiwan by Chinese forces.

The exchange has been reported on extensively, but these things can get drowned out by other parts of the news cycle. It’s a compelling reminder, following recent testimony by other top military commanders (including Phil Davidson, whom Aquilino would replace), that the potential invasion of Taiwan is a near-term, once-in-a-generation threat and a national-security emergency.

The following excerpts of Aquilino’s testimony, in addition to Cotton’s comments about the 2022 Olympics, are worth reading in full:

Cotton: From a military strategic standpoint, why is it so important to Beijing that they annex Taiwan?

Aquilino: Thanks, Senator. As you know they view it as their number one priority, the rejuvenation of the Chinese Communist Party is at stake, very critical as they look at the problem. From a military standpoint, the strategic location of where it is, as it applies to the potential impact of two-thirds of the world’s trade, certainly, a critical concern. Additionally, the status of the United States as a partner with our allies and partners also is at stake, should we have a conflict in Taiwan. So those two reasons are really the strategic main concerns that I would see…

Cotton: Last week, Admiral Davidson testified that he thinks the PLA may have the capability to effectively invade Taiwan, in as soon as six years, maybe less. Do you agree with that view?

Aquilino: Senator, there’s many numbers out there. I know Admiral Davidson said six years. You’d have to ask him where he made that assessment. There are spans from today to 2045. My opinion is this problem is much closer to us than most think, and we have to take this on, put those deterrence capabilities like [The Pacific Deterrence Initiative] in place in the near term and with urgency.

Cotton: I share that view it’s not a 2045, it’s not a 2030 problem. I suspect it may not even be a 2026 problem. From a military planning point of view, what is the best time of year given light weather and sea conditions for the PLA to launch an invasion of Taiwan? Is it the middle part of spring?

Aquilino: Yes, sir, that is certainly a better time, as it applies to sea state and environmentals.

Cotton: Do you recall when the Sochi Winter Olympics ended in 2014?

Aquilino: Yes, senator.

Cotton: February 23. Do you recall when Russia invaded Crimea?

Aquilino: I don’t have the date, senator. I apologize.

Cotton: February 27, four days later. The Beijing Winter Olympics end February 23 next year.


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