China’s growing military power in Asia has increased the danger Beijing will launch a war against a neighboring state, with Taiwan just one of several likely future targets, the admiral in charge of intelligence for the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific Command warned this week.
Rear Adm. Mike Studeman, the top intelligence officer, or J-2, for the East Asian command, said in a conference Wednesday that U.S. military forces are bolstering arms and equipment for when conflict could break out in the region over Taiwan or another American ally or partner.
“What are we warning about: It’s danger on all fronts,” Adm. Studeman told an online conference via telephone from the command’s headquarters in Hawaii. “This idea that it’s only a Taiwan scenario vs. many other areas where the Chinese are being highly assertive, coercive, is a failure in understanding complexity, because it’s not that simple.”
Adm. Studeman said it would be a mistake to wait to act until intelligence agencies receive a warning that China is preparing to launch an amphibious assault against Taiwan, the island nation China‘s Communist leaders have vowed to reunite with the mainland.
“That is one scenario and, frankly, it may not be the most likely,” he said. China’s Communist regime is placing pressure on “lots of its neighbors.”
China in recent months has engaged in disputes with India, Australia, Japan, Taiwan and countries around the South China Sea in what analysts say is an increase in bullying by Beijing. In the past, the leaders of the ruling Chinese Communist Party sought to avoid multiple entanglements with neighbors and the new assertiveness is seen as a sign of China’s growing power and military confidence.
Regarding Taiwan, China has engaged in low-intensity conflict against the island that has increased the dangers across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait. The campaign has involved information operations and economic pressure, Adm. Studeman said.
“It’s already a struggle underway,” he said. “Whether or not the Chinese resort to a military option is in question. To us, it’s only a matter of time, not a matter of ‘if,’ because if you understand the problem set, you understand that Taiwan will unlikely fold based on economic, and informational and diplomatic influence alone.”
The admiral was reflecting earlier comments by the former and current chiefs of the Indo-Pacific Command, who said in testimony to Congress earlier this year that China appears to be preparing for a move against Taiwan by 2030 or before. Adm. Studeman said the United States needs to approach countering China with the same type of effort used against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
“And we’re not there yet as a nation in understanding how to in fact employ our energy, our treasure to be able to grapple with” the danger, he said.
“Much of what we do,” he added, “is internal to us — ensuring that people are ready for a very bad day” if war breaks out.
Adm. Studeman said naval intelligence officials sum up the current situation with China in two words used by Gen. Douglas McArthur in discussing the failure to head off World War II.
“’Too late,’” Adm. Studeman said. “Too late in comprehending the deadly purpose of a potential enemy. Too late in realizing the mortal danger. Too late in preparedness. Too late in uniting all possible forces for resistance.”
The command’s intelligence unit has provided Washington policymakers with strategic warning of the dangers and intentions of China in the region. The admiral’s blunt warnings about China contrast with a more measured assessment of the risk of a conflict with China from Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I think China has a ways to go to develop the actual, no-kidding capability to conduct military operations to seize through military means the entire island of Taiwan if they wanted to do that,” Gen. Milley told a congressional hearing last month.
Several days later Gen. Milley voiced concerns about the capabilities of the U.S. military in waging an extended conflict with China. A war with China “would be an enormous expensive undertaking in terms of all measures and I would be concerned about the ability to sustain a long-term conflict,” he said.
Adm. Studeman said he feels confident U.S. forces would have adequate warning of a Chinese military attack on Taiwan.
“The issue is even if you had, let’s say 90 days of strategic warning for Taiwan, whether or not we have … have built up the capacities and the capabilities that we need to be able to handle the type of scenario which may be unfolding,” he said.
Adversaries like China have a different concept of war than the United States. For them, “every day is a day of war in terms of the continuous struggle for advantage and disadvantage for influence,” he said.
Despite reluctance to compare the threat from China to the Cold War with Moscow, Adm. Studeman said the scale and breadth of the danger is “absolutely awesome and it has every dimension we saw in the 20th century.” China, he argued, is not simply seeking to become a leading world power but plans to surpass the United States and become the world’s most powerful state.
“That’s what Xi Jinping’s course looks like,” he said, referring to the Chinese president. “And he’s been very aggressive across the way. He’s very Machiavellian. It’s not unfair to say that the Chinese rise has come through lying, cheating and stealing.”
China is expected to employ cyber warfare and anti-satellite attacks in any future conflict. Beijing is also investing heavily in space in anti-satellite weapons, including electronic jammers, and missiles capable of blasting orbiting satellites and conducting attacks with other satellites.
“They are on the march,” Adm. Studeman said. “It’s clear as day what they’re putting into the investments.”
U.S. forces also are investing heavily in space defenses “and it will be a game of measures, and countermeasures, and counter-countermeasures” in a future space conflict.
China’s government has used its technological capabilities around the world to gather masses of data that can be used for what the admiral called “effective control” over populations, such as in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
“This is a foreshadowing of what Chinese effective control will look like in other places,” he said.
China is seeking to simultaneously gain control over contested areas such as the border with India, areas around Bhutan in South Asia, the Mekong region of Vietnam, the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, he said. Internally, the ruling Chinese Communist Party, has strong institutions of power and the regime does not appear to be threatened by dissension that could produce serious opposition, the admiral added.
• Bill Gertz can be reached at email@example.com.
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