Simone Gao: In 2015 Chinese leader Xi Jinping initiated a massive military reform in China. What was the goal of that reform, and what does that mean for Taiwan?
Ian Easton: Well, that’s a very good question. What we have seen is, in Dec. 31st, this reform program started, this massive reform and reorganization program started. And it’s continued until today, and apparently the stated deadline of the reform is the year 2020, and the stated objective of the reform is to build a joint-capable People’s Liberation Army. And the concern that I have, and the concern I know that many share, is that when the Chinese Communist Party talks about a joint-capable military, what they’re really talking about, according to their own doctrine, according to their own writing, is a military capable of actually invading and occupying Taiwan. Because if you look at the Chinese, their own literature, there’s only one operation that would really require a joint-capable military, and it’s not a border conflict with India, it’s not a conflict on the Korean peninsula, it’s not a blockade of Taiwan, and it’s not an air or missile campaign against Taiwan. It’s the full-scale invasion and occupation of Taiwan, an operation that it would have to conduct against the Republic of China, or Taiwan, Taiwanese military, but also an operation that would require them to prepare to deter, to delay, and ultimately to attempt to destroy the U.S. military forces that would be ordered to come to Taiwan’s rescue.
Simone Gao: Xi Jinping indicated that the unification with Taiwan will happen by 2035. So in your opinion, should the U.S. take that indication seriously?
Ian Easton: Absolutely, I think we should take it seriously any time the leader of the world’s second most powerful country makes a statement like that. That is a not unveiled threat. It’s very clear what they intend to do. They’re signaling their intentions. I don’t know that, in this particular case, that he was that direct in terms of exactly how he put it, but I do think that is certainly their long-term intentions. And I’m also not sure that they have a timeline that extends out to 2035 in terms of this mission. I think they want the PLA to be ready even before 2035. In fact, well before 2035. There were reports that came out starting in 2008, and then again it was repeated in 2012, at the 18th Party Congress that the PLA was ordered by the Politburo Standing Committee to be prepared to carry on a full-scale, all-out war against Taiwan by the year 2020.
Simone Gao: Do you think the Trump administration is aware of China’s plan toward Taiwan?
Ian Easton: It’s not clear that the highest levels of the U.S. government are aware of this. I’m sure that our military planners are familiar with this strategic problem that we face and that our intelligence community is aware. But if you look at our policy behavior at the highest levels, it’s certainly not clear that our policymakers are thinking a lot about this strategic challenge. And I think that’s probably natural because, obviously, policymakers have to spend the lion’s share of their time and their attention looking at day-to-day crises that are in front of them right now, what is in the news today. What is the problems that we confront today. And this is more of a long-term challenge, and so I think there’s always a tendency to say, well, if I don’t have to worry about that today, I’m not going to worry about it right now.