Romney Discusses Likelihood of Chinese Military Invasion of Taiwan, Stresses Importance of Linking Arms with Allies

WASHINGTON—At a Foreign Relations Committee hearing today on alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) engaged in an exchange with the witnesses about the likelihood of a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan—a trusted partner of the United States in promoting democracy and advancing peace, prosperity, and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. He also emphasized the importance of the U.S. linking arms with its allies to push back against China’s aggression.

Excerpts of Senator Romney’s exchange with the witnesses—Former United States Ambassador to South Korea Harry B. Harris Jr. and Walter Russell Mead—can be found below.

Senator Romney: China apparently believes that America is in decline, that our social networks are frayed, that our industrial base is not as strong as it once was, that actually there are attitudes of isolationism in the U.S.—an unwillingness to work with allies and to support allies. Given the fact that Xi is reported to be a pretty smart guy, wouldn’t he be wise to say, “if that’s the case, why don’t we just wait out Taiwan, wait out America’s weakness, and no reason to invade?” I know there are many who feel like an invasion could be imminent, but if you really believe that America was in decline—a position I disagree with—but if he were to believe that, and also recognize that an invasion of Taiwan would have an enormous economic impact on China, given their reliance on Taiwanese semiconductors. Is it your view that this invasion is a real and imminent threat? Or is it that, “no, actually, Xi Jinping is going to wait it out, and see how things develop.”

Mr. Mead: Yes, Senator, thank you for the question. Well, I’m not good at reading anyone’s mind, and Xi Jinping is not transparent to me. But I do think that what we need to do, the best way to restore predictability and stability and in fact, to get the topic of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan off the, sort of, international conversation agenda, is for there to be a margin of military superiority sufficient so that it is evident to people in Beijing as well as elsewhere that it’s simply not possible for China to successfully attack. And those are no preparations for invasion of the mainland by us. These are defensive preparations, and in that case, China itself will stop talking about Taiwan, stop harassing Taiwan as much, because why do you open a conversation the result of which will simply advertise your weakness? So this would be the way I think we should proceed.

Admiral Harris: Senator, I think on the one hand, if you look at it, demographically, the PRC is upside down in terms of youth and age and the like. So that could argue that—sooner rather than later regarding an invasion. But on the other hand, I think that Xi Jinping is no fool. He seeks stability in the international order so that he has time to shape the international order even more to his favor. So that would argue against the likelihood of an immediate attack on Taiwan…General Minihan, who’s the Air Force four-star, he said 2025. Well, that’s next year, and Davidson’s window is 2027. I always said that the 2030s was the decade of danger. So I think we’re moving in that direction, and we could move to the point that Xi Jinping will balance all the pluses and minuses and could decide, because of the reasons you articulated, and because of the demographic upside down status of his people, that that might be the time to attack Taiwan.

Senator Romney: Let me ask, should, or are, Japan and South Korea thinking about becoming nuclear nations? They’re next door to people, North Korea and China, that have nuclear weapons. They look at us as being their source of nuclear protection, but are they thinking about becoming nuclear or should they be?

Admiral Harris: There are clearly elements inside South Korea and inside Japan that are advocating for their own independent nuclear deterrent. Those voices so far have not been the predominant voices in either country, which is a good thing. There are some in Korea that are advocating for the return of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, which we removed in the 1990s. I believe that both are bad ideas, that we have to convince them that our extended nuclear deterrence is actually reliable and real. And I think the South Korea’s President Yoon’s visit to the U.S. last year, the outcome of which was the Washington Declaration on extended the nuclear deterrence, has gone a long way to quieting those voices that would have South Korea nuclearized, if you will.

Mr. Mead: I believe that, I would hope that we will not see that day, because that day would be an indication that both of those countries no longer trusted the United States’ ability to take the lead there. But I think also we would then see this as the beginning of a further proliferation cascade. What begins in East Asia would not stop in East Asia, and personally, I believe the world has too many nuclear weapons already.