US military chief ‘wants to make it clear to Beijing how hard it would be to take Taiwan’

  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley tells Senate hearing that it is right that US will help the island defend itself
  • He says the best deterrent is to ‘let the Chinese know it is a very difficult objective to take’

The best way the United States can help Taiwan defend itself against an attack from mainland China is to let Beijing know how difficult it would be to take the island, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley has said.

Milley told a Senate armed services committee hearing on the Pentagon’s budget request for the 2023 fiscal year that there would be no problem in helping Taiwan deter potential attacks, adding that it was necessary for the US to do so.

Under the Taiwan Relations Act, passed after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979, the US is required to help the island defend itself.

“The best defence of Taiwan is done by the Taiwanese. We can certainly help them, as is being done in Ukraine, for example, and a lot of lessons are coming out that China is taking seriously,” he said when asked by Senator Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida, what the Department of Defence could do to help Taiwan deter the People’s Liberation Army.

Milley said Taiwan was a “defendable island”, adding that it would be difficult to conduct amphibious assaults and airborne landings across the Taiwan Strait and in mountainous terrain.

But he stressed the best deterrence was to “make sure the Chinese know it is a very difficult objective to take”.

Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and has never renounced the use of force to bring it back under its control.

Last year Milley told the Aspen Security Forum in Washington that the US military “absolutely” had the ability to defend Taiwan from a PLA attack if called on to do so.

But he stressed the US should maintain a policy of “strategic ambiguity” – leaving Beijing guessing about whether the US would respond militarily to an attack – and said it would be a decision for the president on whether to respond.

In his testimony at Thursday’s Senate committee hearing, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told Scott that Beijing was seen as a forever problem in terms of challenges to the US.

“So we want to invest in those things that help keep us ready, capable and dominant today but recognising the challenge will evolve over time,” Austin said.

“You have seen us invest in technology in this budget. You have seen us invest in space-based capabilities, cyberspace, undersea capability,” he said, adding all those things were focused on not only countering China but also Russia.

The Defence Department’s budget request of US$733 billion identifies China as the key strategic competitor. It also focuses on the threat from Russia and other adversaries and aims to modernise the department.

Author: Lawrence Chung, SCMP

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