China lags in Taiwan invasion ambition and US needs to take advantage, expert says

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The U.S. needs to start thinking more globally if it hopes to limit China’s ambitions as President Xi Jinping sets a timeline that would see his military capable of invading Taiwan by 2027, experts told Fox News Digital.

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley this week highlighted comments from Chinese President Xi Jinping in which he laid out a timeline to achieve the capability — not intent — to invade Taiwan by 2027. The comments first surfaced in a speech Xi gave to the People’s Liberation Army in 2021, during which he challenged his army to accelerate its modernization. 

Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby on Friday addressed the 2027 timeline, painting a broad-strokes picture in which China needed to improve its offensive, power projection, access denial and other capabilities. 

“They’re trying to accumulate standoff capabilities to prevent other militaries, including the United States, from physical access to whatever territorial claims they might make,” Kirby said. “So it’s a combination of these kinds of capabilities that I think we’re watching both offensive and access denial capabilities.” 

Developing those capabilities does not guarantee China could carry out that invasion; Kirby pointed to economic challenges as a potential pitfall, saying that China is “not immune to the international economy,” which can have an effect on Beijing’s ability to build defense capabilities. 

The most important shortcoming China faces compared to the U.S. includes its ability to defend against an amphibious force, as well as the ability to cut off support from Taiwan’s allies, such as cutting off shipping lanes and other methods of supply, according to James Anderson, former under secretary of defense for policy under President Trump. 

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“One is to have a really strong amphibious capability,” Anderson told Fox News Digital. “They need more amphibious platforms — large amphibious ships — and they’re building those … having these large amphibious warships strengthens their capacity to invade the island or rather increases the capability of success.

“That involves missiles and mines and aircraft to basically prevent U.S. warships from getting close to the island of Taiwan and preventing them from assisting in Taiwan’s defense for preventing them in any type of resupply efforts,” Anderson added. 

But Anderson believes that the more critical element in China’s calculus will be the level of assistance to Taiwan from the U.S. and its allies – an element that would factor heavily in China’s decision to hit that target.

“It’s in that context that PRC sea denial capabilities become a really important variable, and that is to say now to what extent could the PRC anticipate being able to hold off efforts by the United States Navy and other partners efforts to assist Taiwan,” Anderson explained. 

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“I think the PRC roughly has that capability to forcibly retake the island sooner than 2027, depending on certain scenarios,” he added. “For example, if the United States is seriously distracted by another conflict in the world … it would be less capable and less likely to assist Taiwan.” 

Matt McInnis from the Institute for the Study of War agreed that the U.S. will need to “make choices and has to prioritize” its international initiatives but has to “think globally” if it wants to combat China’s growing capabilities. 

“You hear some of this in recent comments from U.S. military leaders about how to think about China and Russia as an interrelated problem,” McInnis said. “The question of how do you factor in the Middle East or South Asia or other key places … certainly from a resource perspective, the U.S. has made some pretty significant choices.” 

Those choices include accelerating the military drawdown and withdrawal from Afghanistan and heavy investment in Ukraine’s military capabilities in the buildup to and throughout Russia’s invasion earlier this year. 

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The lack of engagement in the Middle East has worried longtime U.S. allies in the region, especially in light of the Biden administration’s intent to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, which has the potential to destabilize the region and lead to heightened nuclear weapons proliferation. 

At the same time, China has increased investment in the region, signing contracts with Iraq and other countries to provide construction material and help improve local infrastructure. McInnis, who served as a member of policy planning at the State Department, also explained how China has invested in Latin America, including Panama and Mexico. 

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“China is expanding its ability to operate,” McInnis said. “And part of that is because they understand that any potential conflict with the United States is going to go on for a while … it’s going to be important to disrupt U.S. capabilities to supply a fight as well as allies in Europe and potentially India and other places too.” 

Kirby noted in his comments Friday to reporters that the U.S. military budget has “an awful lot,” including record investment in science and technology research “to try to make sure that we too have the capabilities to meet those commitments.”

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