Indo-Pacific commander warns China’s leader on cost of war
NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific command, recently warned Chinese President Xi Jinping that any attempt to take Taiwan by military force would result in massive losses of “blood and treasure” for China.
During remarks following a speech, Adm. Aquilino was asked about lessons Beijing should draw from the ill-fated Russian invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Xi, he said, should learn from the Ukraine fight that “there’s no such thing as a short war.”
If the Chinese military were ordered to attack Taiwan by Mr. Xi, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, the conflict would be “drastically devastating to his people in the form of blood and treasure,” the four-star admiral said.
The war also would impact China’s economy, which is deeply interwoven into world markets.
“But, bottom line, the investment of blood and treasure in order to achieve your objectives — that needs to be a very hard decision. So he has to understand that,” Adm. Aquilino said. “I think he needs to understand that the global community can be pulled together quickly when they disagree with actions taken in that fashion.”
Adm. Aquilino said his mission right now is “100% working to prevent conflict” with China.
During his speech, the commander said China’s leader is seeking to upend nearly 80 years of peace and prosperity in the region, hoping to replace the current U.S.-dominated system with one led by Chinese communism.
“He’d like to replace them with a self-defined set of rules that’s beneficial to the CCP, but at the expense of all other nations,” the admiral told a meeting last week of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a pro-Beijing policy group. “Those thoughts, and as the PRC looks at it, are focused on a Marxist view.”
Adm. Aquilino then listed what he described as aggressive and duplicitous actions by Mr. Xi since coming to power in 2012, including illegal and illegitimate claims to control most of the South China Sea; a unilateral declaration of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea; and the construction of military bases on reclaimed artificial islands in a bid control the South China Sea.
“Despite President Xi’s clear promises to President Obama on the White House lawn [in 2016], articulating that he would not militarize those islands, today they have military airstrips, fighter hangars, underground munitions storage, coastal gun emplacements, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers,” he said.
The Chinese leader has also pursued a stepped-up border conflict with India and an increasing number of “dangerous and escalatory” actions against U.S. allies and partners, he noted. Chinese military forces have carried out dangerous aerial maneuvers around U.S. surveillance aircraft and fired lasers against Philippines pilots.
Mr. Xi also broke an agreement to allow democracy in the former British colony of Hong Kong, and mounted an aggressive campaign of military coercion against Taiwan with missile firings and simulated blockades of the island, Adm. Aquilino said.
Regarding a timeline for any military action by China against Taiwan, Adm. Aquilino repeated that Mr. Xi has ordered his forces to be ready to invade by 2027. But he said “no one knows” when an attack will take place. The command’s mission is to prevent a war over Taiwan and — if prevention fails — to “fight and win,” he said, adding that American forces are trained and equipped to execute either mission.
The commander hinted the Chinese are seeking concessions in exchange for renewed direct talks and meetings between U.S. and Chinese military leaders, which Beijing for now is rejecting. Adm. Aquilino said he favors communications but added, “I do not believe that engaging in an open and candid discussion should be used as a bartering chip.”
Asked about the vulnerability of U.S. warships and aircraft carriers to new Chinese hypersonic missiles, Adm. Aquilino said all his forces are capable of protecting themselves against a variety of threats.
“There’s no one trick pony here that we utilize to both deter [attacks]. … It’s the synchronization, [the] integrated efforts of the entire joint force — undersea, above the sea, in space and cyberspace,” he said. “So if anyone were to choose to take on the United States, they’re going to get the full monty.”
Adm. Aquilino said the Chinese surveillance balloon downed by U.S. jets in February after flying over the country not only violated U.S. sovereignty but that of 40 other nations during its flight from Asia over the Pacific and North America.
Xi pushed nuclear buildup: Report
An alarming report produced by a group of experts working with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a nuclear weapons design facility, provides new details on the role of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the rapid expansion of People’s Liberation Army nuclear forces.
The report by the Center for Global Research at the laboratory said Mr. Xi jettisoned 30 years of Chinese nuclear doctrine that limited Beijing’s nuclear arsenal to a modest deterrence force in favor of a major overhaul and buildup of strategic missiles, submarines and bombers. The expansion, dubbed “nuclear breakout,” includes rapidly expanding the warhead stockpile from around 200 warheads to a projected force of more than 1,300 in the next several years.
“These developments have reinforced in the United States both the expectation of war and of unwelcome and destabilizing escalation in war if it occurs,” the report said.
The main event in the buildup was the discovery in 2021 of three new land-based missile fields being built up in western China, where up to 320 multi-warhead missiles will be based. Mr. Xi has made clear that producing a powerful nuclear force is linked directly to China’s goal of becoming the preeminent world power.
Shortly after taking power in 2012, Mr. Xi announced that nuclear forces were “a strategic pillar of China’s great power status” – a new role that no earlier Chinese leader had articulated. A year later, he told a party meeting that nuclear forces were key to expanding “comprehensive national power” and building “a socialism that is superior to capitalism.”
By 2016, Mr. Xi promised a “great rise” in strategic power, and a year later announced breakthroughs “in strategic deterrence capability” with 2049 a deadline for achieving world dominance. Then in 2021, he directed that China “accelerate the construction of advanced strategic deterrent” forces.
The study group report said the rapid expansion of nuclear forces indicates China has decided on one of two pathways.
Either the new Chinese strategy required a far larger and varied nuclear force, or the officials concluded that the role of nuclear weapons had to be altered in ways requiring more weapons and forces.
“We don’t know which of these is true. Neither is reassuring,” the report said.
But the buildup reveals that China is deploying missile forces and command and control systems for a “launch under attack posture” similar to that of the U.S. and Russia.
“It is troubling that, unlike the United States and Russia, China has no experience operating such a warning system tied directly to the ability to launch ICBMs under attack,” the report said.
In addition to strategic nuclear forces, Beijing also has a very large force of theater nuclear weapons that would promote the use of low-yield weapons for regional conflicts.
“This force will give China an array of limited theater nuclear options it has not had before — options that are arguably inconsistent with China’s stated policy of no-first-use,” the report said.
Instead, the low-yield nuclear weapons give China a “coercive, limited-use” strategy similar to current Russian strategy.
“These developments are troubling indicators of China’s intent,” the report said. “They strongly suggest that China is moving away from its legacy strategy and toward something more ambitious and troubling. While its long-term nuclear ambitions remain unclear to outsiders, it is clear that China is aggressively improving its nuclear capabilities as part of its strategy to ‘continuously broaden national power’ and attain ‘the dominant position’ in the international system.”
Chinese nix Austin meeting
The Pentagon is voicing dismay that China’s Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu is declining to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin when both leaders attend the annual Shangri-La defense conference, to be held in Singapore June 2-4. Chinese officials say it is the Biden administration that is the problem.
Asked if U.S. sanctions imposed on Gen. Li over his role in shipping arms to Russia in the past were the cause of the non-meeting, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Washington knew exactly why a meeting was not possible.
“The U.S. is clear about the reason why China-US military dialogue faces difficulties,” she told reporters in Beijing Tuesday.
“The U.S. should earnestly respect China’s sovereignty, security and interest concerns, immediately correct wrong practice, show sincerity and create necessary atmosphere and conditions for dialogue and communication between Chinese and U.S. militaries.”
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.