The former head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, called in Congress on Tuesday for abandonment of “strategic ambiguity” towards Taiwan and a clear declaration that America will defend the island if China decides to invade. He also assessed that the need to defend Taiwan should not mean giving up supporting Ukraine.

“I will be the first to say that the policy of strategic ambiguity over Taiwan has served us well for the last 44 years. But I think the time for ambiguity is over. We need to express our intentions about what will happen if the PRC invades Taiwan so as clearly as the PRC is clear about its intentions that it will eventually take Taiwan if necessary,” Harris said during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.


The military man, who served as commander of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific region from 2015 to 2018, and later as ambassador to South Korea, also called on the Joe Biden administration to sign a free trade agreement with Taiwan, which would also encourage other countries to conclude similar agreements, strengthening the position of the island. He also expressed the opinion that the most important issue when it comes to deterring China is the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

When asked whether the U.S. must choose between helping Ukraine and Taiwan, the admiral replied that the U.S. can and should help and defend Taiwan and that it is in America’s interest.

“The war in Ukraine today is the “wolf closest to the sleigh,” and we have to deal with it today. We do a lot for Ukraine, but I still think that we have not squeezed all the juice out of this orange (…) If we do not help Ukraine fight Russia today, then won’t we be asked for help later when Russia attacks Moldova or Kazakhstan?” said the military man.

He also assessed that China is closely watching the conflict, especially since the Chinese military is trained according to a similar Soviet model as the Russian one.

“So he (Xi Jinping) must wonder if his army is as bad as the Russians seem to be? Is his navy as weak as the Black Sea Fleet (…) And he must wonder if his generals are as weak as the Russians,” he said.

This is not the first such statement recently. U.S. Air Force (USAF) four-star General Mike Minihan also warned in a memorandum sent to officers that a war between China and the United States could happen as early as 2025. The U.S. military points out that both the U.S. and Taiwan will be in an election year at this time, which China can take advantage of and use the moment of distraction to crack down on the island. “Ruthless lethality counts the most. Aim for the head.” In turn, in March 2021, adm. 

Philip Davidson, then commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that “Taiwan is clearly one of China’s ambitions.” An American politician also expressed a similar opinion, “In my opinion, if China fails to take control of Taiwan without bloodshed, then they will turn to an armed invasion, and we must be prepared for that,” said McCaul, who recently took office after a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. He assessed that the likelihood of a conflict with China over Taiwan was “very high.”

Adam Smith, who is the highest-ranking Democratic representative on the House Armed Services Committee, disagreed with McCaul’s comment. A war with China “not only is not inevitable, but it is also very unlikely,” he told Fox News on Sunday. He added that relations with China are strained and “generals should be very restrained in statements such as that we are preparing for war, that it is inevitable.”

The Taiwanese authorities also anticipate a possible conflict. Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said in an interview with Sky News that China’s invasion of Taiwan is now more likely, and its possible date is 2027, when Chinese leader Xi Jinping will seek to extend his power and may attack the island to leave a lasting legacy. “The situation last year was much worse than the previous two,” Wu said. 

He added that the island’s current status “may not last forever.” This stance, rarely expressed by Taipei officials, means that Taiwan could be occupied by China or formally declared independent.

“If Xi can’t boast of the achievements of the three previous terms, he may try to fight for his legacy in a different way,” noted the head of the Taiwanese diplomacy. He added that the Chinese leader could also trigger an international crisis to distract the public from failures in domestic policy and a difficult economic situation. “We fear that then Taiwan may become a scapegoat,” Wu said.

 He pointed out that the greater likelihood of an armed conflict between China and Taiwan is also due to the significant increase in the activity of the Chinese military around the island, which can lead to dangerous incidents. “Very often, many small accidents can eventually trigger a major war,” said the head of the Taiwanese diplomacy.

A simulation of the Taiwan War

According to a simulation conducted by the Washington-based Center for International Strategic Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, China would probably fail to take Taiwan, but the island’s defense would come at the cost of heavy losses to U.S., Taiwanese and Japanese forces. As presented in the think-tank game report, in only one of the 24 simulated scenarios of the Chinese invasion in 2026, the PRC forces managed to take over the island: the one in which Taiwan was left to fend for itself. 

In the baseline scenario, assuming the rapid entry of the U.S. and Japan into the war, the war ended with a relatively quick victory for the defenders or a stalemate with an emphasis on them. In pessimistic scenarios, outcomes ranged from the partial occupation of the island to victory for the defenders.

In each of the cases, each side suffered heavy losses: in the baseline scenario, during about two weeks of fighting, the U.S. and Japan lost an average of 449 aircraft – with almost all Chinese planes destroyed – and 43 ships (including two aircraft carriers) with 138 ships destroyed Chinese. Both sides would lose tens of thousands of troops.

However, the authors of the report, Mark and Matt Cancian, note that high losses mean that even a victorious war for the U.S. could mean the loss of its global position for many years, and for Taiwan, it would mean economic ruin. Analysts also estimate that a defeat could destabilize communist rule in China.

” Victory, therefore, is not enough. The United States must immediately step up deterrence,” the authors write. At the same time, they point out that four conditions are necessary to defend Taiwan:

  • Maintaining the island’s defense by Taiwanese forces until the arrival of U.S. aid.
  • Full involvement of U.S. forces within a few days of the start of the invasion.
  • The ability to use U.S. bases in Japan.
  • Having sufficient anti-ship missiles fired from the air.

The authors point out that the “Ukrainian model” of supporting Taiwan – that is, sending weapons after the start of the war – will not work due to the Chinese blockade.

CSIS admits that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is not “inevitable or even likely,” and Chinese authorities may instead adopt a strategy of diplomatic isolation, hybrid warfare, economic pressure against Taiwan, or a naval blockade.

As Defence24 analyst Dr. Jacek Raubo wrote, describing the simulation described by Warren P. Strobel in “The Wall Street Journal”: ” According to the summary of this particular game, the defense of the Republic of China in Taiwan does not have to end in defeat for the Taiwanese side and the AmericansHowever, it will mean significant military losses and enormous economic damage.” As noted by the game participants, the Taiwanese economy would be in ruins, and the American side would suffer military losses about its global position.

 Naturally, the loss of the Chinese side would be an analogous accumulation of political, economic, and, above all, military losses, translating into the global position of the PRC and probably the internal situation. This must be added if we report on US-Taiwanese losses. Returning to the aforementioned game, one of its participants, quoted in the article “The Wall Street Journal,” noted that there is no question of a draw but rather a recognition that in this way, no one won and no one lost.”

In turn, the analyst Jarosław Ciślak from Defence24 wrote about the possibility of a Chinese amphibious assault on Taiwan in the text “Chinese capabilities of amphibious assault on Taiwan”: The disproportion of population, economic potential, and the size of the armed forces is great and is more favorable for China. However, geographical conditions favor Taiwan. 

It occupies the entire island, which you must cross by sea or air from China. The possible invasion of Taiwan by the Chinese army will be a major operation. Presumably, it will consist of successive phases, i.e., a missile attack on selected targets, an air attack and a fight for air control, and the landing of Chinese airborne troops and marines.

Of course, Taiwan has been preparing for such an event for decades and attaches great importance to the development of its army and the ability to defend the island. In the current political and military situation, the behavior of U.S. troops in the event of Chinese aggression remains a great mystery. Will the U.S. armed forces actively defend Taiwan, or, as in the case of Ukraine, will they help the defenders only politically, in terms of equipment and economically? Certainly, China cannot count on a friendly welcome from the Taiwanese. The Russians had hoped for such a welcome when they attacked Ukraine but were sorely disappointed.

There are many press and internet publications about the Chinese army, but they usually deal with their general characteristics or detailed technical solutions for selected types of military equipment.

 The complete Chinese military censorship does not allow for obtaining reliable information about China’s military potential. The Chinese authorities, on the other hand, control “independent” observers who, from time to time, release photos and information about, for example, tests of new types of weapons into the world. Taiwan would be a joint operation of great complexity.

The possible landing on Taiwan will also be a huge logistical operation, which is unlikely to go unnoticed by international observers. This was the case with the Russian troop build-up before the attack on Ukraine.

 Unfortunately, with widespread Chinese censorship, this will be much more difficult, especially because the Chinese in previous years have learned to control and manipulate information, photos, and videos appearing on the Internet. But we should try, and we will try to do it.