U.S. can 'deter and defeat' Chinese aggression: Pentagon nominee

06/17/2021 01:10 PM
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Ely Ratner. Image from the Center for a New American Security
Ely Ratner. Image from the Center for a New American Security

Washington, June 16 (CNA) The United States has the ability to "deter and defeat" Chinese aggression, and will continue to ensure that U.S.-Taiwan defense cooperation is "commensurate with the threat" posed by China, a senior Pentagon nominee said Wednesday.

Ely Ratner, who has been nominated by U.S. President Joe Biden to serve as assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs at the Department of Defense, made the comments at his confirmation hearing and in written testimony.

Ratner is currently a special assistant to the secretary of defense and director of the Department's China Task Force. He was Deputy National Security Advisor to then-Vice President Biden from 2015-2017.

Asked by Senator Josh Hawley about the possibility of a Chinese fait accompli against Taiwan, Ratner said that it was a "real concern," as China has "yet to renounce the use of force against Taiwan and is increasingly using its aggression and coercion in the region."

"In the absence of the United States to impose sufficient cost and denial capability, I think there is potential that they would use aggression against Taiwan to achieve their political aims," Ratner said.

"My personal view is that the absolute certain way to deter China from using aggression is to ensure that they're unable to achieve that goal. I should suggest also at the time that I'm confident, today, that we have that ability to deter and defeat Chinese aggression," he continued.

He added that if confirmed for the post, he will work with the Senate Armed Services committee to ensure that this ability is maintained.

In responding to Hawley's question on the progress Taiwan has made in adopting an asymmetrical defense strategy, Ratner said that he thinks President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is "committed to taking Taiwan's military in the right direction."

"I'm encouraged by the steps she's been taking to try to develop a more mobile and resilient military," he said, and undertook to advance that agenda further if confirmed.

When questioned by Senator Daniel Sullivan on whether he agreed with Admiral Philip Davidson that China could forcefully retake Taiwan within six years, Ratner said that he agreed with Davidson's sense of urgency on the matter, but he didn't find it "particularly useful to put a pin on a timeline."

The U.S. should ensure that it maintains combat credible deterrence going forward, whether it's five, 10, or 15 years from now, he said.

On the topic of the military balance across the Taiwan Strait, Ratner stated in his written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee that China is "mission-focused, well-resourced, and rapidly developing both in terms of direct military pressure on Taiwan and through other PLA capabilities aimed at deterring, delaying, or denying third-party intervention in a crisis."

That is why, if confirmed for the post, Ratner said he would "carefully review the current military balance across the Taiwan Strait" to ensure that U.S.-Taiwan defense cooperation is "commensurate with the threat posed by the PRC."

The U.S. will continue to advance defense cooperation with Taiwan and provide Taiwan with necessary defense articles and training, he said.

On the question of whether the time has come for the U.S. to explicitly state that it would respond militarily to any Chinese use of force against Taiwan as a means to deter such actions, Ratner did not answer directly.

He said, instead, that U.S. support for Taiwan is rock-solid and reflects "more than 40 years of a consistent, principled, and bipartisan one-China policy based on the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three U.S.-PRC Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances."

He said that if confirmed, he would "continue to support these commitments commensurate with the threat the PRC poses to Taiwan."

(By Chiang Chin-yeh and Chiang Yi-ching)

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