If China decides to invade Taiwan in the future, it wouldn’t be a “strategic surprise,” a veteran CIA analyst said Monday, as a nationwide buildup would likely be noticeable several months to a year in advance.
According to John Culver, who spent 35 years at the agency and three as its top intelligence officer for East Asia, the fact that the U.S. intelligence community has not revealed an intensive Chinese military mobilization is evidence that Beijing has not yet begun the necessary preparations to invade the island nation.
Culver downplayed speculation about the likelihood of an impending conflict in the Taiwan Strait in commentary for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank. The scenario was raised by senior U.S. officials and President Joe Biden pledged in September to intervene in a potential crisis.
Retired Adm. Phil Davidson, former head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, testified before Congress last year that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan could come in 2027, according to Newsweek.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with Davidson’s timeline, which would occur at the same time as the 100-year anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
“But if war is Beijing’s plan, there ought to be reliable indications that it is coming,” Culver, now a senior researcher at the Global China Hub of the Atlantic Council think tank, said.
“For one, it almost certainly would not be subtle,” he wrote. Signals, such as a surge in missile production, would likely be spotted by Western and Taiwanese intelligence officials a year ahead of time, as well as signs that the Chinese government was taking steps to shield its economy and military from anticipated Western sanctions.
“Three to six months out, the PLA would also halt most regular training and perform maintenance on virtually all major equipment,” Culver said. “Across the PLA, leave would be canceled, and service members would be recalled to duty and restricted to their garrisons or ships.”
“And China's leaders probably would be preparing their people psychologically for the costs of war: austerity, tens of thousands of combat deaths, and civilian deaths from U.S.- and Taiwan-launched strikes,” the intelligence analyst continued.
According to Newsweek, China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and views its “unification” with the communist nation as a goal to be accomplished through force, if necessary. The democratic island’s people, however, have shown little interest in political association.
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