The U.S. Navy’s frontline fleet commander warned that China’s military is capable of imposing a blockade around Taiwan, but doing so would trigger a concerted effort by the international community to intervene.
Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that China has “a very large navy” that can “bully and put ships around Taiwan.”
“Clearly, if they do something that’s non-kinetic, which, you know, a blockade is less kinetic, then that allows the international community to weigh in and to work together on how we’re going to solve that challenge,” he said.
Adm. Thomas could not predict whether China would blockade or launch a full-fledged attack against Taiwan, but he said that the U.S. Navy is prepared for any scenario.
China views Taiwan as a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland. The Chinese Communist (CCP) regime began its largest military drills near Taiwan in August following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island.
Pelosi’s Visit to Taiwan
Adm. Thomas revealed that U.S. military aircraft taking Pelosi to Taiwan took “a circuitous route” rather than flying over the South China Sea due to concerns about China’s reaction.
The CCP has “completely militarized” the South China Sea, of which it claims the majority of the sea despite competing territorial claims from other nations, according to Adm. Thomas.
“There certainly was a lot of rhetoric by the PRC [People’s Republic of China] about, if she goes, there will be some consequences,” the commander told the newspaper.
“You never quite know with the PRC if the rhetoric is real or if it’s just that—rhetoric—and just to prevent any miscalculation, there were some decisions made to give us a little bit more time and space to understand what their reaction might be,” he added.
China fired at least 11 ballistic missiles, some of which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Adm. Thomas said Beijing attempted to push the boundaries to “see what they can get away with.”
Greg Copley, president of the International Strategic Studies Association, said the escalating rhetoric and exercises demonstrated that China was not willing to initiate a “hot” war for Taiwan, but was instead preparing forceful measures short of war to coerce Taiwan.
“I think one of the things the war games showed us was not that they were preparing an imminent physical invasion of Taiwan, but rather they were looking at methods short of a physical invasion,” he said in an interview with NTD, sister media outlet of the Epoch Times.
“In other words, a quarantining of all trade into and out of Taiwan by being able to blockade ocean and air links and the like,” Copley added.
Andrew Thornebrooke contributed to this report.