The US intelligence community believes that China is actively attempting to build a military capable of taking over Taiwan – even in the face of US support for the island, top US intelligence officials told Congress Tuesday.
The threat to Taiwan between now and 2030 is “acute,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“It’s our view that (China is) working hard to effectively put themselves into a position in which their military is capable of taking Taiwan over our intervention,” Haines said, declining to publicly provide further details on the intelligence community’s timeline.
But, she and Defense Intelligence Agency head Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier cautioned, the US doesn’t yet know what lessons Chinese President Xi Jinping will take from Russia’s war in Ukraine and the western assistance that has flowed to Kyiv. How Xi and the Chinese Communist Party interpret the events of that crisis could impact its timeline and approach to Taiwan, the two officials said.
Haines and Berrier also noted that the US believes that China would prefer to avoid a military conflict over Taiwan if possible.
“I believe the (People’s Republic of China) would rather not do it by force,” Berrier said. “I think they would rather do this peacefully over time.”
Taiwan is also learning some important lessons from the Ukraine conflict that may better enable it to defend against China, Berrier added.
“There are some things that we can do with Taiwan,” he said. “I think they’re learning some very interesting lessons from the Ukrainian conflict, like how important leadership is, how important small unit tactics are, how important a (noncommissioned officer) corps is, and really effective training with the right weapon systems and what those systems with the right people would be able to do to thwart that.”
On Saturday CIA Director Bill Burns also said that Russia’s conflict in Ukraine has affected China’s calculations when it comes to “how and when” it goes about attempting to take control of Taiwan.
“Clearly the Chinese leadership is trying to look carefully about the lessons they should draw from Ukraine about their own ambitions in Taiwan,” Burns said. “I don’t think for a minute it’s eroded Xi’s determination over time to gain control over Taiwan but I think its something that’s affecting their calculation about how and when they go about doing that,” he added.
Taiwan is a self-governing island democracy that China claims is part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force for “reunification.” Beijing has been pressuring Taiwan militarily, including holding a military drill east of the island over the weekend and flying warplanes into its air defense identification zone this past week.
Under the “one China” policy, the US acknowledges China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.
But US arms sales to Taiwan for its self defense and President Joe Biden’s and other US officials’ vocal support for the island has been a source of tension between the US and China.
In January, China’s ambassador to Washington warned in an interview with NPR that “if Taiwanese authorities, emboldened by the United States, keep going down the road for independence, it most likely will involve China and the United States … in a military conflict.”
The New York Times reported Saturday that the Biden administration is quietly pushing the Taiwanese government to order American-made weapons, such as missiles and smaller arms for asymmetric warfare, it believes would be better suited to defend against an invasion by China.
A US State Department spokesperson said Monday that “bolstering Taiwan’s self-defenses is an urgent task and the most effective approach to doing so is through investing in asymmetric capabilities that are credible, resilient, mobile, distributed, and cost-effective.”
The spokesperson said this assessment has been reflected by members of the Biden administration, “many credible experts” as well as “Taiwan itself.”
“Continuing to pursue systems that will not meaningfully contribute to an effective defense strategy is inconsistent with the evolving security threat that Taiwan faces,” the spokesperson said. “As such, the United States strongly supports Taiwan’s efforts to implement an asymmetric defense strategy.”
They noted that the US defense relationship with Taiwan “remains based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs and the threat posed by the People’s Republic of China.”
“As Admiral Aquilino noted in his March testimony, unification with Taiwan is among the PRC’s top priorities, the scale and sophistication of (People’s Liberation Army’s) training around Taiwan has drastically increased, and Beijing has intensified its multi-faceted pressure on Taiwan,” they said, referencing the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command John Aquilino.
“Consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability,” the spokesperson said.
“Since 2017 the Executive Branch has notified Congress of over $18 billion in arms sales to Taiwan,” they continued. “The United States’ swift provision of Taiwan defensive weaponry and sustainment via Foreign Military Sale (FMS) and Direct Commercial Sale (DCS) is essential for Taiwan’s security and we will continue to work with industry to support that goal.”
“For four decades, the US ‘one China policy’ has been guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three US-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances,” the spokesperson noted.
“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan,” they said. “The United States will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues, consistent with the wishes and best interests of Taiwan’s people.”
CNN’s Wayne Chang contributed to this report.