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INDOPACOM commander nominee voices concern about China, Taiwan

Navy Adm. John Aquilino testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. Image courtesy SASC
Navy Adm. John Aquilino testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. Image courtesy SASC

March 23 (UPI) -- The admiral nominated to lead U.S. Indo-Pacific Command expressed concerns Tuesday about the possibility China could seize Taiwan through military force.

Forces stationed in the region must be "positioned to respond quickly" to a takeover of Taiwan, U.S. Pacific Adm. John Aquilino told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a confirmation hearing this week, USNI News reported.

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"Those forces combined with the international community, with our allies and partners - those nations with common values. Those two things would position us very strongly for the deterrence required," Aquilino said.

Aqulino's comments echoed those made by former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who told the SASC earlier this month that Taiwan is "the most significant flashpoint now that could lead to a large-scale war."

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Also this month, Adm. Phil Davidson, the current INDOPACOM commander, told SASC China could try to seize control of Taiwan within the next six years, but Aquilino did not offer a timeline.

"You have to ask him where he made that assessment. There are spans from today to 2045," Aquilino said. "My opinion is this problem is much closer to us than most think."

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Davidson traveled to Washington in early March seeking support for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative -- $4.6 billion in fiscal 2022 and and $27 billion through 2027, according to Defense News -- and also told American Enterprise Institute that strengthening the U.S. military presence on Guam and providing arms to Taiwan should be priorities.

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Aquilino, who will succeed Davidson as INDOPACOM commander if he's confirmed by the Senate, said he believes the Pacific Deterrence Initiative should be put in place "in the near term and with urgency."

Aquilino did contradict Davidson Tuesday when describing the size of China's nuclear arsenal, Stars & Stripes reported.

During his appearance before SASC this month Davidson -- in response to a question from Sen. Tom-Cotton, R-Ark. -- said China could surpass the U.S. nuclear stockpile by 2030 if they could quadruple the number of warheads they have.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asked that even if China quadrupled their stockpile in ten years, "China would still have fewer warheads than the U.S. [has] currently deployed, is that right?"

"If it were to quadruple today, that would be accurate," Aquilino responded.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters before meeting Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Alaska that China's cyberattacks, internment of Uighur Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, new restrictions in Hong Kong, action against Taiwan and trade tensions with Australia "threaten the rules-based order" responsible for maintaining global stability.

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