In a press briefing on Monday, the Pentagon outlined what the next $1 billion in aid for Ukraine would go toward, but all eyes remain on China and Taiwan in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taipei that saw Chinese forces engage in live fire drills around Taiwan in an escalating show of force.
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Colin H. Kahl — the #3 leader at the Pentagon — briefed reports amid an apparent stalemate between American and Chinese defense officials. That is, Beijing won't even take calls from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chair Mark Milley.
Despite China's aggression — that included state media threatening to shoot down the U.S. Air Force plane that Pelosi was traveling on and China's subsequent live fire exercises surrounding Taiwan — the Pentagon on Monday stood by its earlier assessment that China would not seize Taiwan by force within the next two years.
Colin Kahl, the Pentagon official, says there is no new assessment on China trying to retake Taiwan militarily. The previous assessment was that China would not try to take Taiwan in the next few years.— Idrees Ali (@idreesali114) August 8, 2022
If that sounds familiar to the assurances the Biden administration gave roughly one year ago about the assessment that Afghanistan would not quickly fall to the Taliban, it should. It goes without saying that the situations in Afghanistan and along the Taiwan Strait have significant differences and multiple different challenges. That said, trusting what the Biden administration says about a foe's abilities and intentions is more difficult now than it was before the denial of a collapse in Afghanistan happening over a weekend — followed by Kabul's fall in about 72 hours.
Suggesting perhaps even more denial about China's intentions toward China, Under Secretary Kahl also sought to minimize the threat Chinese aggression poses to international trade by activities or open hostility in the Taiwan Strait. "My sense," he explained, "is that there hasn't been much of an effect on Taiwans economy or the international economy" from China's recent live fire drills.
Kahl says China’s actions have not had a major impact on Taiwan’s economy.— Idrees Ali (@idreesali114) August 8, 2022
Still, Kahl acknowledged that "there could be a point at which the PRC could engage in activities that could have economic consequences for Taiwan and the world economy" and reiterated the U.S. calls for "stability in the Taiwan Strait." Kahl insisted that the Biden administration would not take China's bait, though he wasn't immediately clear on what China was attempting to force the U.S. to do.
Calling the current moment one of "profound international tension" with a weird grin on his face and while claiming the Biden administration predicted all of China's actions in response to Pelosi's visit, Kahl pledged that the Biden administration would "keep our eye on it."
DOD’s Colin Kahl on why Pentagon recommended against Pelosi going to Taiwan: “We’re at a moment of profound international tension—we’re talking about Russia in Ukraine… I think there was a sense the world didn’t require another instance of rising tensions, but it is what it is.”— Jerry Dunleavy (@JerryDunleavy) August 8, 2022
Despite the stated certainty in the assessment that China would not militarily take Taiwan, Kahl wouldn't confirm or deny that China had fired missiles that flew over Taiwan during its live fire exercises and played a sort of word game about what "over" actually means:
Kahl: DOD can't say declaratively if China launched missiles over Taiwan, which would be a first: "'Over' depends on the loft and trajectory and what you consider to be over and whether that's the first time."— Paul D. Shinkman (@PDShinkman) August 8, 2022
"We do know that Chinese missiles landed N and E of the island"