WASHINGTON ― There’s no indication China will attempt to take Taiwan imminently, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday, responding to an Air Force general’s leaked assessment that an attempt could be made in the next two years.
The four-star in charge of U.S. Air Mobility Command, Gen. Mike Minihan, said in a recent memo to his troops, “My gut tells me will fight [China] in 2025,” and urged them to prepare.
Asked about that timeline, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said, “I don’t see anything that indicates that this thing is imminent in the next couple of years.”
Kahl’s full remarks on Jan. 31 were part of an exclusive interview with the Defense News’ Early Bird Brief podcast, which was released Monday. They preceded the most recent blow to strained U.S.-China relations: The U.S. military on Saturday shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America.
Minihan’s views reflected high-level concerns in the U.S. military over a possible attempt by Beijing to seize Taiwan, which China claims as territory. Both the U.S. and Taiwan will hold presidential elections in 2024, which could create an opening for China to cause trouble, Minihan wrote.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last month he seriously doubts China’s stepped up military exercises around Taiwan means Beijing is planning an imminent invasion.
The U.S. has bolstered military relations with nations such as Japan, South Korea and Australia in response to North Korean and Chinese aggression. Austin last week visited the Philippines and Seoul to strengthen ties.
Kahl told Defense News in spite of China’s military modernization efforts, China’s coercive behavior towards the island nation and investments in amphibious capabilities, he sees “no sign” Chinese President Xi Jinping and his fellow leaders believe the Chinese military is capable enough.
“They understand well that the United States continues to have pretty significant overmatch in a lot of critical domains, and that Xi Jinping would ― all else being equal ― like to resolve the Taiwan issue without having to resort to force,” Kahl said.
Kahl said China’s military has been untested by war for several decades and likened it to Russia’s, whose performance in Ukraine has frustrated Moscow. America’s “deterrent capability is meaningful and real,” and its forces are honed by experience, he said.
“It’s kind of like saying you got the two teams in the preseason that look like they should be in the Super Bowl, except one team has never played a single game. And the other team has been playing season after season after season for decades,” Kahl said.
“I don’t think the PRC leadership assesses that this is possible, and I’m not sure that they’ve made any decision about whether it’s even desirable,” he added.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.