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Antony Blinken says China will be capable of invading Taiwan by 2027, stresses US arms sales

Tan KW
Publish date: Sat, 25 Mar 2023, 01:39 PM
Tan KW
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday concurred with a US intelligence chief’s assessment that China will be able to invade Taiwan by 2027. Later in the day, Blinken downplayed China’s diplomacy with Russia as a “marriage of convenience,” adding that Beijing has not yet given military aid to it’s “junior partner” Moscow to fight Ukraine.

“In February, CIA Director [William] Burns said that, as a matter of assessment, China seems to be capable of conducting an invasion by 2027, if so ordered. Do you agree?” asked Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican from Tennessee and a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs.

“I agree with the assessment, yes,” Blinken responded as he appeared before the panel to testify on the State Department’s 2024 budget request. The agency is seeking US$63.1 billion to address what he described as “acute threat from Russia” and “long-term challenge from China”. Blinken also said on Wednesday that the world was closely watching Russia-China diplomacy. 

China considers Taiwan, a self-ruled island, to be a renegade province. US President Joe Biden has several times committed to intervening militarily should China use force against the island, despite America’s long-standing policy of strategic ambiguity.

Taiwan has become a flashpoint between the two global powers over increased US arms sales and high-level political engagement.

The White House confirmed on Wednesday that Taipei has again been invited to the Democracy Summit. The three-day event, which last took place in December 2021, begins in Washington on Tuesday.

During his appearance before the Senate subcommittee on Wednesday, Blinken was questioned about the absence of any specific mention of Taiwan in the State Department’s budget request. He also faced criticism for his department’s allocation of only US$16 million in emergency foreign military funding to the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan.

In its last defence spending bill, Congress approved up to US$2 billion per year from 2023 to 2027 for emergency grants to Taipei.

Hagerty asked Blinken if Beijing had warned the Biden administration against “some sort of red line involved with us stepping up our foreign military funding”. While denying any “red line” threat from mainland China on foreign military funding, Blinken stressed that the most effective way to support Taiwan defensively was to clear the US$19 billion arms sales backlog.

“The challenge that we have, I think you’ve pointed to, is we do have a backlog, a very significant backlog. This fundamentally goes to production challenges that we have,” Blinken said, adding that it was imperative to work with industry to build up to that production capacity.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later on Wednesday, Blinken stressed that when it comes to Taiwan, “we’ve been more focused on foreign military sales” than on distributing grants.

“Taiwan increased its defence budget by about 11 per cent,” he said. “So it has significant means to acquire this technology.”

Speaking a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Blinken said China was monitoring how the world was responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I think if China’s looking at this - and they are looking at it very carefully - they will draw lessons for how the world comes together, or doesn’t, to stand up to this aggression,” he said.

Blinken said that when the US told allies and partners that China was considering providing lethal aid to Russia, “this galvanised a number of other countries, all of whom directly engaged with Chinese leadership on the question”.

“We’re actively talking to them about what it is we would do in the event that that happened,” Blinken said.

Blinken said that although China was pushing an “illiberal” vision to replace the US-led world order, “I’m not sure Russia or Putin actually wants a world order - maybe more like world disorder.”

President Biden, who has issued public warnings for weeks that Beijing could start sending military aid to Moscow, said Wednesday that has not taken place. “As we speak today, we have not seen them cross that line.”

Blinken also downplayed the role that China played in brokering a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia earlier this month that has rattled Washington, which considers itself the main influence in the region, and bolstered Xi’s diplomatic reputation.

“I think what China did, cleverly, was to at the very end of that process take advantage of the work that these countries have done, and then basically host the conclusion of the agreement,” he said.

In testimony on Wednesday, Blinken highlighted an 18 per cent State Department budget increase from 2023 in “new innovative investments” in the Indo-Pacific to “outcompete China”. The budget requests US$3.2 billion to implement the Indo-Pacific strategy.

He said the US could become “more attractive than any alternative” by “enhancing its presence in the region and ensuring what we and our fellow democracies have to offer, including maritime security, disease surveillance, clean energy infrastructure to digital technology”.




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