America wants to stop China “dead in its tracks” from a Taiwan invasion by ensuring Taipei has the right weapons and command and control systems, a senior defense official testified this week before the House Armed Service Committee.
Jedidah Royal, the Pentagon’s principal deputy assistant secretary for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, repeated several times during the Tuesday hearing that Washington’s policy toward Taipei remains unchanged after 40 years under the Taiwan Relations Act. The policy includes providing necessary weapons to defend the self-governing island from attack. On Monday, Bloomberg reported the U.S. will sell 400 Harpoon anti-ship missiles to Taipei, a sale Congress approved in 2020.
U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Adm. John Aquilino told the panel the goal remains “to convince [Chinese President Xi Jinping] it’s a bad choice” to try to take Taiwan by force.
“We need to deter today, tomorrow,” he said.
“I think we’re doing that.”
He declined to set a possible timeline on a Chinese military move, noting only that Xi said he wanted his armed forces to be prepared for any action by 2027.
“I think everybody’s guessing” on a date, but the threat is rising, Aquilino said.
The admiral pointed to the command’s robust theater posture with 60 percent of the American Navy committed to the Indo-Pacific and U.S. air and ground forces also persistently stationed forward as demonstrating Washington’s commitment. On the technological side, he added the United States maintains an edge over China.
The U.S. military in the region “exceeds anything China can deliver.” Aquilino said he wants the Pentagon to go faster in fielding hypersonic weapons.
Aquilino said the emerging AUKUS agreement that will eventually see Canberra deploy its own nuclear-powered submarine and exchange technological information was “a really large step forward” in deterrence.
He dismissed Beijing’s claims of the U.S. starting a nuclear arms race in the region with the signing of the agreement or Australia losing its sovereignty over its armed forces by entering the pact.
“Since August, the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] has normalized warship patrols around Taiwan and increased the number of military flights crossing into Taiwan’s self-declared Air Defense Identification Zone. They have in effect erased the unofficial Taiwan Strait centerline, a mutually observed boundary designed to avoid unintended friction, to pressurize the people on the island,” Aquilino said in his written testimony.
China also has test-fired missiles over Taiwan since former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in summer 2022.
Aquilino said “we challenge excessive claims” in conducting strait transits in the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere. He added allies, partners and friends, like Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, support these actions to maintain a free and open Pacific for international maritime commerce.
In all these activities, the United States is stressing “competition, not containment” of China, he said.
Aquilino would not say when the Indo-Pacific Command was going to conduct an operational exercise with the Taiwanese in an open meeting. He said current table-top exercises give participants “a broad view” of vulnerabilities and strengths.
For several years, Marines and special forces have been training the Taiwanese in insurgency tactics in case of an invasion.
Aquilino said in both oral and written testimony he didn’t believe conflict with China “was imminent and inevitable.”
As to whether U.S. allies and partners needed the administration to spell out more clearly the “what ifs” if Beijing launched an invasion, “we need to listen to them.” Listening is crucial since the United States would need host nation approval to operate against China if Taiwan were invaded. Aquilino pointed out allies and partners have seen the dangers of an increasingly aggressive China across the Indo-Pacific.
As an example, Royal and Aquilino cited the tighter security relationship that has developed with the Philippines in the last year. Both also mentioned the greatly expanded Balikatan 23 exercise with Australia also participating and Japan observing.
Royal said allies and partners, like India, are more actively participating in more and larger exercises with the United States. They are looking for increased interoperability and strengthening regional security arrangements and posture and providing a network of support.
“That [network} is the clarifying element” when it comes to Washington’s policy toward Taiwan, said Royal.