China could invade Taiwan within the next six years as Beijing accelerates its moves to supplant American military power in Asia, a top US commander has warned.
Democratic and self-ruled Taiwan lives under constant threat of invasion by China, whose leaders view the island as part of their territory and which they have vowed to one day take back.
“I worry that they’re [China] accelerating their ambitions to supplant the United States and our leadership role in the rules-based international order… by 2050,” said Washington’s top military officer in Asia-Pacific, Admiral Philip Davidson, on Tuesday.
“Taiwan is clearly one of their ambitions before that. And I think the threat is manifest during this decade, in fact, in the next six years,” he told a US Senate armed services committee hearing.
Taiwan split from China at the end of a civil war in 1949 and exists under the constant threat of invasion by the mainland.
Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, but remains the island’s most important unofficial ally and military backer.
Donald Trump embraced warmer ties with Taiwan as he feuded with China on issues like trade and national security.
Biden’s administration has offered Taiwan cause for optimism for continued support aside from the State Department saying in January that US commitment to the island was “rock-solid”.
Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US was formally invited to Biden’s inauguration, an unprecedented move since 1979.
China also has made expansive territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea and even threatens the American island of Guam, Davidson said.
“Guam is a target today,” he warned, recalling that the Chinese military released a video simulating an attack on an island base strongly resembling US facilities in Diego Garcia and Guam.
He called on lawmakers to approve the installation on Guam of an Aegis Ashore anti-missile battery, capable of intercepting the most powerful Chinese missiles in flight.
Guam “needs to be defended and it needs to be prepared for the threats that will come in the future,” Davidson said.
In addition to other Aegis missile defence systems destined for Australia and Japan, Davidson called on lawmakers to budget for more long-range weaponry “to let China know that the costs of what they seek to do are too high.”
“A wider base of long-range precision fires, which are enabled by all our terrestrial forces – not just sea and air but by land forces as well – is critically important to stabilise what is becoming a more unstable environment in the western Pacific,” Davidson said.
While the Pentagon has said it was in favour of placing such missiles in the region, allies in Asia have so far appeared to be opposed to the idea of hosting them.
Davidson said, however, that missile defence was not enough to deter a potential adversary. “Missile defence is the hardest thing to do. And if I’m the manager of a baseball team, if I can have the best defences in the world but if I can’t score some runs, I can’t win the game,” Davidson said.