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Testimony: DOD Is Laser Focused on China Pacing Challenge, Meeting Our Commitments Under the Taiwan Relations Act

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In stark contrast to deepening authoritarianism and oppression in the People's Republic of China, Taiwan has proven the possibilities of an alternative path to the Chinese Communist Party, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told a Senate panel today.

A military ship sails in the ocean.
Ocean Ops
The guided-missile destroyer USS Barry conducts routine underway operations in the South China Sea, Nov. 21, 2020. Barry is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific
Photo By: Navy Mass Communications Specialist Molly Crawford
VIRIN: 201121-N-MH811-1086

Ely Ratner testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the future of U.S. policy in Taiwan. 

"Unfortunately, although the PRC publicly advocates for peaceful unification with Taiwan, leaders in Beijing have never renounced the use of military aggression," he told Senate members. "In fact, the [The People's Liberation Army] is likely preparing for a contingency to unify Taiwan with the PRC by force while simultaneously attempting to deter, delay or deny third-party intervention on Taiwan's behalf."

The PRC threat to Taiwan, however, is not limited to invasion or blockade, he noted, adding the PLA is conducting a broader coercive campaign in the air and maritime domains around Taiwan. "These operations are destabilizing, intentionally provocative, and increase the likelihood of miscalculation," Ratner said.

Nevertheless, he added, although the PLA's actions are real and dangerous, and PLA modernization is unlikely to abate, the PRC can still be deterred through a combination of Taiwan's own defenses, its partnership with the United States and growing support from like-minded democracies. 

Two men shake hands..
Celebratory Handshake
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III congratulates Ely Ratner after administering the oath of office to the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, on Air Force E-4B en route to Singapore, July 25, 2021. This was part of a seven-day trip that included Singapore, Hanoi, Vietnam, and Manila, the Philippines, meeting with key leaders reaffirming defense relationships and conducting bilateral meetings with senior officials.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 210725-D-TT977-0083

Through smart investments and key reforms, Taiwan can send a clear signal that its society and armed forces are committed and prepared to defend Taiwan, Ratner said, adding, "Without question, bolstering Taiwan self-defenses is an urgent task and an essential feature of deterrence."

Tsai Ing-wen, the president of the Republic of China, has prioritized the development of asymmetric capabilities for Taiwan's self-defense that are credible, resilient, mobile, distributed and cost-effective, he noted. "Asymmetric capabilities, however, are only one part of the deterrence equation. Taiwan must complement investments in these critical capabilities with equal focus on enhancing resilience, supporting civil-military integration and building a strategy that includes defense in depth."

In addition to the provision of defense, arms and services to Taiwan, the Defense Department remains committed to maintaining the capacity of the United States to resist the resort to force or other forms of coercion that might jeopardize the security of the people on Taiwan, he said, noting, "and let me be clear that this is an absolute priority."

The PRC is DOD's pacing challenge and a Taiwan contingency is the pacing scenario, Ratner said. "We are modernizing our capabilities, updating U.S. force posture and developing new operational concepts accordingly. [The] department's efforts to deter PRC aggression and enhance Taiwan's defenses will not be in isolation. Countries throughout the Indo-Pacific and beyond recognize the PRC aggression against Taiwan would have serious consequences for their own interests in our increasingly voicing concerns about PRC coercion and potential aggression against Taiwan.

A helicopter takes off from a ship in the Taiwan Strait.
Takeoff Time
An MH-60R helicopter, assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 51, takes off from the flight deck of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin) as it conducts routine operations in the Taiwan Strait, Aug. 18, 2020. Mustin is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
Photo By: Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cody Beam
VIRIN: 200818-N-AJ005-1033M

"As evidenced by a number of recent multilateral operations and exercises, the department is focused on enhancing our regional cooperation as a means of bolstering deterrence," he said.

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