Retired US Admiral Timothy Keating, former head of the US Pacific Command, said on Thursday there was “an extreme unlikelihood” of military confrontation across the Taiwan Strait.
Speaking just a day after Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) ended a Washington visit that included talks with US President Barack Obama, Keating said he was “cautiously optimistic.”
“China understands deeply that it cannot afford to undertake hegemonic activity — muscular activity — without suffering severe consequences. They will be very, very careful in any desire they have for Taiwan or the South China Sea,” he said.
Keating was the opening speaker at the second annual “China Defense and Security Conference” held in Washington by the Jamestown Foundation.
It is known that in one closed-door meeting with Obama and in a second with US Vice President Joe Biden and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Xi warned against US arms sales to Taiwan and urged the US to stay clear of China’s “core interests.”
However, Keating did not appear to interpret any of this as a direct threat.
He said the fact that there had not been any serious confrontation in and around the strait was “a great assurance.”
“I think there are several reasons. One is that the Chinese realize that whatever short-term gain they might realize would be immediately, and for a long time, offset by international opprobrium. They could not endure the economic sacrifice that would have to be paid if China were to launch missiles at Taiwan,” he said.
“I would emphasize the importance of our support in terms of arms sales to Taiwan,” he added.
Keating said that he was optimistic that a solution would be found to the China-Taiwan -problem “in our lifetime.”
“I don’t know what the answer is, but each day we don’t have conflict we are one day closer to that solution,” he said.
Keating said that he was not overly worried by the growth of the Chinese military and played down Beijing’s recent acquisition of an aircraft carrier.
“OK, they’ve got an aircraft carrier. We have retired carriers in better shape than this thing. And they have not yet shown a capability to deploy it with jets onboard. They will get there, and that’s fine, but one carrier with a couple of jets does not a blue-water navy make,” he said.
The admiral said that he was more worried about China’s development of a cyberwarfare capability.
“The Chinese emphasis on cyberwarfare is a concern for us as a country and it is a concern for our global businesses. This is an area to which we have to pay close attention,” he said.