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US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley speaks at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday. Photo: Getty Images via AFP

Xi Jinping has yet to decide whether to order Taiwan unification by 2027: top US military adviser

  • Chinese leader wants PLA to develop capability by then and Pentagon must modernise to deter him, says Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman
  • General Mark Milley believes optimised use of AI and quantum computing can help US ‘maintain our current decisive advantage’
Chinese President Xi Jinping has yet to decide whether to order a military unification with Taiwan by 2027, according to the US government’s top military adviser, who called for an accelerated modernisation of America’s armed forces to prevent such a move.

Speaking at a National Press Club event in Washington on Friday, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley sought to clarify an oft-repeated US government assessment of Beijing’s intentions towards the self-ruled island.

Xi “has stated publicly that he has challenged the People’s Liberation Army to develop the military capability to unify Taiwan with China by 2027. So he didn’t say, ‘I’ve decided to attack and invade’”, Milley explained.

“He said, you generals, you develop the capability to do that; we’ll make the decision later. There’s a very subtle distinction there,” Milley added.

“The decision-making process will still have to occur, and that’s what I’m getting at with the idea of deterrence.”

“You want to make sure that every single day President Xi wakes up and says today’s not that day, and that decision never comes,” Milley said.

“The faster we move [on military modernisation], the faster we can retain military superiority, then I believe … we are more likely than not to deter war … and if war does happen, we will prevail.”

US military and government officials have recently offered different time-frame assessments for Beijing’s Taiwan reunification plans, predictions that include military capability and actual attack intentions.

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Admiral Michael Gilday, chief of US naval operations, said last year that the Pentagon should not rule out “a 2022 window or potentially a 2023 window” for such a move by the PLA.
Weeks later, the head of the Air Mobility Command, General Mike Minihan, said: “My gut tells me we will fight in 2025.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, said in March he concurred with an assessment by CIA Director William Burns that China wants to be prepared to invade Taiwan by 2027.
However, Pentagon officials have been saying more recently that such an attack was not inevitable, as US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral John C. Aquilino said in May at an event organised by the National Committee on US-China Relations.
Milley on Friday paraphrased the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu to highlight the need to incorporate artificial intelligence and quantum computing into US military operations more quickly to provide the deterrence capability that would keep a PLA invasion of Taiwan at bay.

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“Sun Tzu tells us, see yourself and see the enemy and you win 1,000 battles. Well, artificial intelligence and quantum computing are going to do exactly that,” he said.

“The combination of those two technologies alone would spell a tremendous change in the character of war,” Milley said.

“So our task … [is] to maintain our current decisive advantage, our lethality and readiness, our competence, by optimising these technologies for the conduct of war. And we do this not to conduct war, but to deter great-power war.”

Beijing claims sovereignty over and firmly opposes any form of official exchange with self-ruled Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Most countries, including the US, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state. Washington, however, opposes any attempt to take the island by force and is legally bound to defend the island.