NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
China is expanding its military capabilities in multiple ways as part of a large-scale modernization program that is “awesome” in scope, according to a senior Defense Intelligence Agency official.
Doug Wade, chief of DIA’s recently formed China Mission Group, told a Washington think tank this week that the Chinese military could take a number of aggressive military and intelligence actions toward Taiwan short of an all-out invasion.
Mr. Wade said no single aspect of Beijing’s military buildup, one that includes hypersonic missiles, space weaponry and a large-scale expansion of nuclear forces, keeps him awake at night.
“It’s the totality of it,” he said.
“China‘s military modernization over the past few years, and where we believe it’s going in the near future, is really just kind of awesome,” Mr. Wade told a meeting at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. “It spans so many different elements. If you look at their naval capabilities, the expansion of the number of their assets, how they use them, combined with sort of how they pulled together their air capabilities, their missile capabilities, their C5ISR capabilities,” using the acronym for command, control, communications and intelligence systems.
As for Taiwan, Mr. Wade said Beijing could launch military operations against the island democracy “well below the threshold of an actual invasion conflict.”
People’s Liberation Army military operations “would probably include a wide variety of activities, starting with things like cyber, including things like [a] blockade or increasing violations of Taiwan‘s air defense zone and Taiwan‘s territorial areas, [and] encroachment by naval forces,” he said.
In an operation targeting the island, Chinese forces could also use “firepower strikes” and other limited attacks short of sending large numbers of amphibious forces across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.
DIA analysts also do not rule out that China could launch a full-scale invasion attempt against Taiwan, Mr. Wade said.
“President Xi [Jinping] has made clear that they don’t prefer to resort to military force like an invasion to compel Taiwan unification,” he said. “But they haven’t ruled it out.”
Asked if DIA and U.S. military intelligence components can provide advance notice of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, Mr. Wade said he believes there would be some warning time before operations commenced. Indicators of an invasion would include military mobilization similar to what was observed in Russian forces massing near Ukraine before the 2022 invasion.
For China, “some of that [preparation] is making sure you have your logistics and your economic engine in place to be able to support an actual conflict,” Mr. Wade said. “And so you’d probably see some of those signs.”
Pentagon and military officials have offered conflicting views on the likelihood of a Chinese move against Taiwan, one that likely would draw in U.S. forces and those of regional allies.
Two military commanders of the Indo-Pacific Command, now-retired Adm. Philip Davidson and his successor, current commander Adm. John Aquilino, have testified to Congress that a Chinese attempt to take over Taiwan could come by the end of this decade or sooner.
Both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Ely Ratner, assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific affairs, have downplayed the danger of a Chinese attack, saying a move by Beijing is neither “imminent or inevitable.”
“I think [the Chinese] have intention, but absolutely I think we can get to the end of this decade without them committing major aggression against Taiwan,” Mr. Ratner told a Senate hearing last month.
War fears were increased in November when Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China is speeding up its timetable for an attempted takeover of Taiwan.
Mr. Xi, the Chinese leader, has said that taking Taiwan, which broke from the mainland during a civil war in 1949, is key to his policy for national rejuvenation.
Pentagon orders end to large flag displays
Chris Meagher, assistant defense secretary for public affairs, recently ordered chiefs of services’ public affairs offices not to authorize service members to take part in displays of large American flags at sporting events, saying they are disrespectful.
Mr. Meagher stated in a Feb. 11 memorandum that a Pentagon regulation called the Flag Code governing national symbols at patriotic and military observances states that “service members must consistently show proper respect to the U.S. flag and uphold the intent of the Flag Code.”
The code states that the country’s flag must never be carried flat or horizontally and must fly “aloft and free.” Also, flags should never touch anything below, such as the ground, the floor, water or merchandise.
The memo is targeted at sponsors of professional and college football games that use uniformed military service members to unfurl and hold giant, horizontal American flags stretched flat and sometimes covering large portions of football fields “as expressions of patriotism and love of country,” Mr. Meagher said.
Some military units also took part in community parades carrying large, horizontal American flags while in marching formation.
Pentagon parachute demonstration teams have also used large flags attached to and flying behind jumpers, a practice that resulted at times in the flag dragging along the ground during landing.
“While many, including military members, view these displays as inspiring and patriotic, … uniformed service members may not participate directly in unfurling, holding, and/or carrying of giant horizontal U.S. flags that are displayed during community outreach events,” Mr. Meagher said, noting that parachute teams also must not use American flags unless the flag can be prevented from touching the ground on landing.
“Uniformed service members must always render the proper honors to the U.S. flag,” Mr. Meagher said.
The memo instructs military commanders and their public affairs advisers to check with lawyers before approving community requests for events involving flags.
Defense Department spokesman Roger Cabiness said the memorandum was meant to clarify proper flag etiquette for the military services.
“This memorandum ensures that our service members can properly showcase their patriotism and military capabilities while complying with DoD policy,” he said.
The memo was first reported by the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
Candidate: Ukraine aid limits U.S. arms for China
Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson recently surveyed Republican candidates for the 2024 presidential race on their views of U.S. military and economic aid to Ukraine, now estimated at over $100 billion.
Several declined to answer, but among those who did was conservative entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who stated that opposing Russia in Ukraine is not a vital strategic U.S. interest. U.S. involvement, he said, reflects Biden administration energy policies that failed to produce U.S. self-sufficiency.
“Foreign policy is all about prioritization, [and] my top two foreign policy priorities are to declare independence from communist China and to annihilate the Mexican drug cartels,” Mr. Ramaswamy stated in a written response to Mr. Carlson.
“The main thing should be the main thing: focus on China,” he said. “China wants the Ukraine war to last as long as possible to deplete Western military capacity before invading Taiwan. It’s working: We think we appear stronger by helping Ukraine, but we actually become weaker vis-a-vis China.”
Former President Donald Trump told the Fox host that if he were president the Russians would not have invaded in the first place. Mr. Trump wants to press the Europeans to provide more support to Ukraine.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said U.S. involvement in Ukraine should be secondary to addressing other issues, including countering China.
“While the U.S. has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural and military power of the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. DeSantis said, “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”
But former Vice President Mike Pence said backing Ukraine is in line with former President Reagan’s policies, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also advocated backing Kyiv.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that “throwing money at Ukraine” is clearly failing, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said U.S. opposition to Russia had only heightened the threat posed by China.
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not respond to the questionnaire.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.