A weekend report in Financial Times suggests the world is closer than ever to witnessing a major conflict flare up over Taiwan. Multiple alarming quotes from top American defense officials included in the report reveal that Washington fears China is now in the process of planning a takeover of the US-backed democratic island.
Ironically the report was published shortly on the heels of the Chinese Air Force's largest ever incursion into Taiwan's air space Friday, which saw a whopping 20 aircraft, including four long-range bombers, breach the country's southwest defense zone. FT concludes based on the US officials interviewed for the report that the Biden administration now sees Beijing as actively "flirting with the idea of seizing control of Taiwan as President Xi Jinping becomes more willing to take risks to boost his legacy."
Such a scenario would force Washington's hand — it would have to decide to either go to war on behalf of its tiny ally halfway across the world against the massive and formidable People's Liberation Army (PLA) — or sit back and watch from the sidelines somewhat helplessly.
"China appears to be moving from a period of being content with the status quo over Taiwan to a period in which they are more impatient and more prepared to test the limits and flirt with the idea of unification," one senior US official was cited in the report as saying.
The pessimistic assessment was reportedly based on the Biden admin monitoring Chinese military movements and behavior over the prior two months.
The official stated that Xi sees this as a crucial part of his legacy moving forward. The Chinese president "sees capstone progress on Taiwan as important to his legitimacy and legacy," the official was quoted further as saying. "It seems that he is prepared to take more risks," the official said.
The Biden administration has concluded that China "is flirting with the idea of seizing control of Taiwan as President Xi Jinping becomes more willing to take risks to boost his legacy." https://t.co/pLTPj9qVcR— Axios (@axios) March 27, 2021
This appears to also be the assessment of Admiral John Aquilino, who's been tapped to head US forces in the Pacific. He testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee this past week week that the threat to Taiwan "is much closer to us than most think," according to CNN.
He told the briefing of Beijing's hostile intentions for asserting control over Taiwan that it's now "their No. 1 priority."
Interestingly, Aquilino actually suggested that the recent prediction of a "within 6 years" takeover timeframe earlier this month stated by outgoing Indo-Pacom commander Adm Philip Davidson was too conservative. "My opinion is that this problem is much closer to us than most think and we have to take this on," Aquilino said.
And then there's the assessment of top White House Asia official Kurt Campbell, who concludes, "...nowhere have we seen more persistent and determined activities than the military, diplomatic and other activities directed at Taiwan." However, it should be noted that FT emphasized that Taiwan's government and military leadership itself doesn't share this assessment of any 'imminent' invasion threat in the works — or if so they're at least not willing to state it openly.