Ely Ratner, the US assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said during a congressional hearing on Tuesday it would be a “huge miscalculation” for Beijing to try to cut off the island.
“We believe, based on our analysis, that Taiwan would have options on its own and with the international community to ensure the delivery of industrial resources, raw materials, energy and other critical items in the event of a [People’s Liberation Army] blockade, so it is likely to not succeed,” Ratner told the House Armed Services Committee.
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“And it would be a huge risk of escalation for the PRC, where it would likely have to consider whether or not it was willing to ultimately start attacking commercial maritime vessels. So, for all that reason, we think this would be ... a huge miscalculation,” he said, referring to a blockade scenario.
The comment represented the Pentagon’s latest public assessment of Beijing’s capabilities in imposing a blockade and of how the international reaction might play out.
Military observers widely believe that a blockade is an option the PLA has rehearsed over the past year through its large-scale exercises conducted near the island.
China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it will eventually unite it with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Beijing in August last year staged its first-ever, week-long live-fire military exercises, amounting to a blockade of Taiwan, in response to a visit to the island by then US House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
And on Monday, Taiwanese defence officials said they detected a record 103 Chinese military warplanes operating near the island.
Major General Joseph McGee of the Pentagon’s joint staff handling strategy, plans, and policy said that while a blockade was an option for China it was highly unlikely to be pursued.
“When you start looking at the military options, it is much easier to talk about a blockade than actually do a blockade,” McGee said at Tuesday’s hearing, without elaborating.
Testifying that “there is absolutely nothing easy about a PLA invasion of Taiwan,” the major general said it “would require a combined amphibious and airborne air assault operation”, which he described as “incredibly complicated” to be able to do.
As for Washington’s policy towards Taiwan, Ratner argued that the US should not walk away from its long-standing policy of strategic ambiguity.
“I think the effects of changing our policy to strategic clarity away from strategic ambiguity would not strengthen deterrence by the United States,” he said. “I think it would increase political tensions and make conflict more likely.”
Asked whether China’s economic difficulties would make it more or less aggressive militarily – twice during the hearing by Republican congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, chairman of the House select committee on the Chinese Communist Party – Ratner said he preferred to provide an answer “in a classified session”.
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