US Security Adviser O'Brien Warns China Against Attack On Taiwan

We detailed Wednesday that China's state-run Global Times issued a major threat, saying China should "fully prepare itself for war" with Taiwan in the event it restores diplomatic relations with the United States. The tabloid's chief editor Hu Xijin wrote in his latest English language op-ed that "We must no longer hold any more illusions. The only way forward is for the mainland to fully prepare itself for war and to give Taiwan secessionist forces a decisive punishment at any time."

On the same day National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien addressed just such a scenario at an event hosted at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, describing as summarized by Al Jazeera that China is “engaged in a significant naval build-up probably not seen since Germany’s attempt to compete with Britain’s Royal Navy prior to WWI.”

“Part of that is to give them the ability to push us back out of the Western Pacific, and allow them to engage in an amphibious landing in Taiwan,” O'Brien said. “The problem with that is that amphibious landings are notoriously difficult.”

Taiwanese Army exercise, via US Naval Institute

As he specified this includes the fact of about a 100-mile distance between the mainland and Taiwan, adding to difficulties of a well-organized amphibious landing.

“It’s not an easy task, and there’s also a lot of ambiguity about what the United States would do in response to an attack by China on Taiwan,” he said, referencing also that China hawks in Congressed have introduced the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act bill. More directly he was referencing the US longtime posture of 'strategic ambiguity' regards defending Taiwan.

“You can’t just spend 1 percent of your GDP [gross domestic product], which the Taiwanese have been doing – 1.2 percent – on defense, and hope to deter a China that’s been engaged in the most massive military build up in 70 years,” he said, during a week where Taiwan's defense spending was up for question at the US-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference.

O'Brien proffered a strategy that militarily Taiwan needs to “turn themselves into a porcupine” because ultimately “Lions generally don’t like to eat porcupines.”

It didn't take long for Chinese state media to respond in what it called out as Taiwan's "weakness":

Meanwhile, after much of a year which has witnessed Taiwan's Air Force scramble its jets dozens of times, and conduct deterrence exercises and aerial patrol missions, Taiwan's Minister of National Defense Yen Teh-fa on Wednesday announced the island has spent nearly $900 million scrambling its jets in response to PLA warplane incursions and provocations.

In the end it appears that the message from Washington continues to be that Taiwan should dramatically boost defense spending, because it's anything but clear that the Pentagon will be there when the Chinese military machine comes calling.