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Top US general: Chinese military has ‘ways to go’ before it can take Taiwan

Jun 17, 2021

The Chinese military does not currently have the capability to take Taiwan by force and is not likely to try in the near term, the U.S. military’s top general said Thursday.

“My assessment, in terms of capability, I think China has a ways to go to develop the actual, no-kidding capability to conduct military operations to seize through military means the entire island of Taiwan, if they wanted to do that,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“I think there’s little intent right now or motivation to do it militarily,” Milley added. “There’s no reason to do it militarily, and they know that. So, I think the probability is probably low, in the immediate, near-term future.”


Milley’s assessment comes amid increased concern in Washington over China’s plans for Taiwan.

China has ramped up military drills near the island, including a headline-grabbing exercise this week that included 28 aircraft, the largest number it has sent in a single day toward what it sees as a breakaway province.

A pair of top U.S. admirals warned earlier this year that China could try to invade Taiwan sooner than previously thought. Former Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. Philip Davidson told senators in March that China could try to invade Taiwan “in the next six years,” while his successor, Adm. John Aquilino, told senators “this problem is much closer to us than most think.”

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While Milley on Thursday downplayed the imminence of any invasion attempt, he agreed retaking Taiwan is one of China’s top priorities.

“I do think it is a core, C-O-R-E, national interest of China to unite Taiwan,” Milley said. “And the internal politics of China are up to China, as long as whatever’s done is done peacefully and doesn’t destabilize the region or the world.”

Testifying alongside Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin similarly described the timeline for China to try to seize Taiwan as an open question, saying there are “a number of intelligence estimates that address that issue.”

“It is very likely that they’ll want to do that,” Austin said. “In terms of when they’ll have the capability to do that, that’s left to be seen.”

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