WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Chinese blockade of Taiwan would likely fail and a direct military invasion of the self-ruled island would be extremely difficult for Beijing to carry out successfully, senior Pentagon officials told Congress on Tuesday.
China’s military in recent years has stepped up activity around Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory. U.S. CIA Director William Burns has said Chinese President Xi Jinping has instructed his country’s armed forces to be ready to invade by 2027.
However, whether Xi would order taking Taiwan by force, either through military options like a blockade or an invasion is unclear.
Ely Ratner, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security Affairs, said a blockade would give Taiwan’s allies time to mobilize resources for Taiwan. A blockade’s economic impact would be so devastating that it would harden international resolve against Beijing, he said.
“It would likely not succeed, and it would be a huge risk of escalation for the PRC, where it would likely have to consider whether or not it was willing to ultimately start attacking commercial maritime vessels,” Ratner told the House Armed Services Committee, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
Army Major General Joseph McGee, vice director for strategy, plans and policy of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, said a blockade was also not very likely given the challenges involved.
“I think it is an option but probably not a highly likely option, when you start looking at the military options – much easier to talk about a blockade than actually do a blockade,” McGee told lawmakers.
China staged war games around Taiwan in August of last year and again in April, and its forces operate around the island almost daily.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said last week in its biennial report that China was bolstering its air power along the coast facing Taiwan with a permanent deployment of new fighters and drones at expanded air bases.
Still, McGee also said China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), would be hard pressed to carry out frontal, amphibious invasion of the island. That is not something it could do in a surprise attack either, he said.
“They would have to mass tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of troops on the eastern coast and that would be a clear signal,” McGee said.
He added flatly: “There is absolutely nothing easy about a PLA invasion of Taiwan.”
“They would also encounter an island that has very few beaches, where you could land craft on mountainous terrain, and a population that we believe that would be willing to fight so there is absolutely nothing easy about a PLA invasion of Taiwan,” he said.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali, Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Marguerita Choy)