JUST IN: China’s Xi Should Pay Attention to Ukraine, PACOM Commander Says

By Stew Magnuson

Reagan National Defense Forum

SIMI VALLEY, California — Ever since Russia attacked Ukraine last spring, comparisons of that war to a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan have been a source of debate among military analysts.

President Xi Jinping of China should be paying close attention to how Russia has fared in its unilateral decision to invade its neighbor, Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander of U.S. Pacific Command said Dec. 3.

There are many lessons to be learned, the commander said during a panel discussion at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

Number one: taking on a military operation of this size and scope is complex, Aquilino said.

Russia was expected to quickly seize control of Ukraine, but 10 months later, that has yet to happen, and it can barely hold on to the territory it has occupied, he noted.

“The [Peoples Republic of China] should not underestimate how difficult it would be to execute the event and achieve their objective,“ he said.

Next lesson: “It's going to cost blood and treasure and the leadership is going to have to explain that to their people,” Aquilino said.

Just look at the sanctions allies have imposed on Russia and what it has done to its economy, he said.

The counter argument to sanctions is that the United States and China are so tied together economically the United States would be feel the pain just as much, and maybe even more. That’s not necessarily so, Aquilino said.

“If you look at the globalized economy and how plugged in China is, we could have 500 times more devastating effects,” he said. The Japanese, United States and South Korean economies together are overwhelmingly larger than China’s, he noted.

“So when you think about like-minded nations coming together to deliver economic concerns, that's a pretty strong, tough problem for them to deal with,” Aquilino said.

Finally, reputation is very important for the president of China. What would an invasion of Taiwan do for Xi’s legacy? Aquilino asked.

“Those are important things that I think President Putin has learned, and I hope they translate,” Aquilino said.

Aquilino was asked if he believed — as some have speculated — that China wants to invade Taiwan by 2027.

“If I knew the answer. I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you, I would be in Vegas,” he said. In some ways the question is irrelevant because PACOM has been tasked with being ready for a Taiwan conflict at any time, he said. But his main task is to deter conflict, he added.

“So for me, the timeline, it almost doesn't matter because we do have to be prepared today. And we're taking all those actions,” he said.

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said, “I think the government of China is smart. I think they listen. I think they observe, and I think they respect strength. And if we show ourselves in that capacity, and we assist Taiwan in that same capacity, then they have to reconsider what their options are,” he said during the panel.

China has learned how to go to war by watching the Ukraine events unfold, Rounds said. “China clearly understands that the way that we fight, they're going to go after our cyber capabilities — and they're very good at it — and they're going to go after our space-based assets,” he said.

There may be a key difference between Ukrainians and Taiwanese, and that is the will to resist an invasion, Rounds said.

“The issue of the will to fight can't be underestimated,” Rounds said. Very few people understood how strong Ukrainians would be defending their homeland, he added.

“That same amount of desire — that same strength — we have to be able to see in Taiwan as well. And I think that's going to be one of the challenges as a nation that we're going to be looking at is: do we see that same desire for freedom that we see in Ukraine today?” Rounds asked.


Topics: Global Defense Market

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