US President Must Bring Back a Stronger America
An Interview With James E.Fanell

(Interviewer: Hanako Cho, Mayuko Kataoka)

The Liberty spoke with a retired captain of the U.S. Navy about impending threats toward Taiwan and his assessment of the Biden administration’s Asia policy (as of August 9th).


Retired Captain of the U.S. Navy

Captain James E. Fanell

Fanell graduated from San Diego State University, received his M.A. from the University of Hawaii and was a National Security Affairs Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is currently a Government Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in Switzerland where he lives with his wife. His last assignment in the U.S. Navy was as the Director of Intelligence and Information Operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet where he warned of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region. He co-authored the “New U.S.-Japan Alliance against China’s Threat (in Japanese only).”

Cap. Fanell: Before starting our interview, I would like to talk about what happened in the U.S. yesterday, August 8th, the FBI’s raid of Mar-a-Lago (as of August 9th). It’s a seminal moment in American history because this never, never happened before, never in our history. And I’m afraid for America if this is allowed to continue.

The idea that a sitting American President would raid a political opponent’s office or home is beyond outrageous, it is travesty of justice and a violation of our Constitutional Republic. And I’m not sure what’s going to happen because I think this is going to be the test to see if the American people are going to accept this. Because if they allow this to happen, then there’s no control over the federal government, and America will become like the Chinese Communist Party running China, where you can never go to sleep not knowing what would happen. In this “new era” the U.S. government could come to your home and just decide you’re an enemy because of something you said or wrote. They would control what’s approved and not approved. That’s not what the founding fathers of America, when they wrote our constitution, believed. They said you have freedom of speech to say whatever you want. But now we have people in our government who have unprecedented power over Americans and they do not want to give it up. So, they’re going beyond the normal constitutional system and are now justifying their actions with any excuse because of their visceral hatred of former President Trump and his “semi-fascist” followers. But more and more Americans are seeing what is really happening, that one Party is attacking their political opponent in order to achieve total control of the nation.

And if they can attack the former President of the United States, somebody who is most likely going to run again to be President, then they can shut up anyone in America. If they can attack a former, and likely Presidential candidate, then anybody else below that level in terms of political power, will also not be safe from these unconstitutional actions. When you get to this point, then it means no one is safe from the federal government, and this is a very dangerous time in our history.

Interviewer: Indeed. We are very concerned about the current situation as well. We appreciate you sharing your honest feelings with us.

Regarding our interview, we are currently working on a special feature to examine possible policy changes that the U.S. would take after the next midterm or presidential election in 2024. President Biden’s approval ratings keep failing, and it seems that even Democrats and the mainstream media are trying to push Mr. Biden to run for re-election in 2024. Given the situation, it would be appreciated if we could share your zero-based views on U.S. China strategy with our readers. So let me start with my question. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last week, on August 2nd, and China fired multiple missiles and is still extending its military exercise near Taiwan (as of August 9th). What specific policies should President Biden pursue to defend Taiwan? And do you think the “strategic ambiguity” should be changed?

Cap. Fanell: Obviously the People’s Republic of China used Speaker Pelosi’s visit as a justification for the military aggression they demonstrated against Taiwan, Japan and the rest of the world. While, the Chinese government said that their military actions were conducted in response to Pelosi’s visit, I believe, like others, that the Chinese government was already prepared to do something like this. [Based on] what we’ve seen from this multi-day exercise, this was not something that was just planned 24 or 48 hours following her visit to Taiwan, but instead the PLA and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Central Military Commission, had already planned to conduct such an exercise which they likely had on the shelf. The CCP was just waiting for any excuse to implement this dress rehearsal for the invasion of Taiwan. So that’s the first thing. The facts surrounding why Pelosi went to Taiwan are being discussed domestically in America. While we could talk about how her visit came about and it was leaked to the Financial Times, which is a controversial point, but that’s not really important to me as a military observer.

What’s important to me is to see that the Chinese military clearly had a pre-planned response, which they had developed months earlier. Speaker Pelosi had announced in April that she was maybe going [to Taiwan], but China’s planning likely goes back even further. I think their military plans are aligned to what I’ve been warning about: the Decade of Concern from 2020 to 2030. The PLA had been ordered by both Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping decades ago to have the capability to take Taiwan by military as early as 2020 and that the use of military force to invade and seize Taiwan would happen as late as 2030. Since 2020, the PLA has been refing its war plans to invade and take Taiwan. And now the PLA is confident in being able to execute such an operation. What we saw on the 4th through 7th of August was a rehearsal of the that war plan.

From the military perspective, the PLA’s Taiwan Invasion Strategy goes along three military sub-campaigns. The first campaign is called the Joint Fire Strike Campaign (JFSC). The JFSC is where the PLA Strategic Rocket Force launches ballistic missiles at Taiwan, to isolate their military and the political leadership, frighten the civilian population and destroy key Taiwan military targets. The next campaign is the Joint Anti-Air Raid Campaign (JAARC), which then allows the PLA Air Force to control and have air supremacy over Taiwan. The JAARC would also include air superiority over the Japanese Air Defense Identification Zone. Then once the PLA has established air supremacy over Taiwan and air superiority over the avenues of approach from Japan, the PLAAF will be able to neutralize all targets in Taiwan, preparing for the next step, the invasion of the island―the Joint Island Landing Campaign. So, these three campaigns: Joint Fire Strike, Joint Anti-Air Raid, and then Joint Island Landing Campaign form the core elements of the PRC’s grand strategy to take Taiwan.

In the running up to this military exercise the PRC has been using what they call political warfare.

As it relates to political warfare the PRC has been working to pressure more countries to shift their recognition from Taipei to Beijing, like they did in 2019 with the Solomon Islands and Kiribati. On a daily basis the PRC’s “wolf warrior” diplomats are working to isolate Taiwan in the international arena.

Another element of the PRC’s political warfare is what the PRC calls the three warfare’s: psychological warfare, legal warfare, and information warfare which Beijing has used over the past 10 years against Taiwan, Japan, and the rest of the region to isolate Taiwan.

This recent military exercise also uses psychological warfare, highlighted by the PLA air and naval forces crossing the center line of the Taiwan Strait. So, during this recent 4-7 August PLA exercise the PLAAF has sent lots of planes across the line, obliterating the respect that both sides had taken towards the center line. For instance, since the centerlines inception in 1954 to 2020, only four PLAAF had ever crossed the Taiwan Strait centerline. This is the “new normal” and it is one in which not just PLAAF aircraft cross the centerline and threaten Taiwan, but so now do PLA Navy warships, and likely submarines.

Since the 4-7 August exercise, we now see daily, routine PLAAF crossings of the center line, which is a form of psychological warfare to be used against the people of Taiwan because they can see on the evening news that Chinese airplanes and warships are crossing the centerline, which had historically been a “barrier” between the PRC and Taiwan. And there’s only one reason to cross the center line. It means you’re trying to attack Taiwan.

Additionally, the PLA Navy has been operating on the east coast of Taiwan, another form of psychological warfare.

Imagine going home, wherever you live, and there’s a robber, and if the robber is five blocks away, you don’t see it, you don’t think about it. But if you see the robber standing right outside your window with a knife or a gun, and he doesn’t do anything, he just stands there, will you go to bed and go to sleep and sleep well? Probably not. So, this is what China is doing to the Taiwan military. They’re threatening them with this kind of threat of force and violence right out their front door, and they’re doing that around the island, around the clock. That’s the context of what’s happening…unending pressure.

We also should talk about these ballistic missile firings on the 4th of August. What is important is the fact that China fired more in this one day than they did throughout all the previous Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995 and 1996. Most importantly, the PLA fired ballistic missiles over the island of Taiwan. This is important not just for the people of Taiwan, but also for the people of Japan. Japan has prior experience in these kinds of aggression because North Korea has also fired ballistic missiles over Japan. As such, the people of Japan understand the psychological terror this inflicts on the the civilian population.

Now the people of Taiwan have experienced the same threat. And I would say that it’s more significant because Chinese ballistic missiles are much more accurate and deadlier than those from North Korea. which are also very dangerous. So, I think this is another form of the political and psychological warfare.

Then clearly, there’s the information warfare, disinformation or the manipulation of information to create a sense of isolation and helplessness. Like when the CCP propagandists said that, “We had to conduct this military action because Nancy Pelosi violated our national security interests when she went to Taiwan.” The PRC has used the trip of an 82-year-old woman to Taiwan as a justification for taking all this violent action and deploying their forces. And now here we are and the Chinese military is still actively threatening, and surrounding, Taiwan on a daily basis.

During the 4-7 August time period the PLA announced there would be six closure areas around Taiwan where the PLA Rocket Force fired ballistic missiles which disrupted international commercial airline operations and international shipping in and out of Taiwan.

While most “experts” believed that after the 7th of August, the PLA would pull back to mainland China and things would calm down. But China hasn’t left the area. Since the expiration of those closure areas on the 7th of August, the Chinese Navy and Air Force are still operating in and around Taiwan.

It’s really important to understand the training benefit of live fire missiles when you are in a Navy ship or a submarine or a combat aircraft, a bomber or a fighter. That’s one form of training that America has invested a lot in because it’s cheaper than testing real live ordinance. It’s one thing to test a weapon on a computer simulator in the safety of your homebase, but it is entirely different to test real weapons at sea and in the air.

The Chinese have simulators as well, but they are still more heavily invested in live-fire weapons testing, what American and the Japan’s militaries used to do, especially back when I first joined the Navy in the ’80s.

In the 1980s the U.S. Navy did a lot of live fire testing because the training benefit for the operator, for a pilot of a plane or a crew of a warship, who get to test the real equipment and understand the complete “kill chain” effect, something that cannot be done in a simulation.

So, when you’re flying in an aircraft, really flying, you have to pay attention to staying airborne and keeping your plane flying and keeping it all in balance. You have to monitor your fuel, you have to monitor the radar and then you have to go to engage the target with the weapons release. Then you have to watch the weapon drop off of the wing and then fly forward. And if that doesn’t work right, it could be an emergency, and you may have to divert or eject. These are the real world effects that could happen during a live fire. If you do all that in a simulator, that’s one level of training, but if you do it for real at a training range where you’re really release the weapon, the value of the training goes way up.

So, the Chinese military is doing live fire testing because it gives their crews, their combat crews, from their aircraft, from their submarines, from their ships, from their rocket forces, it gives them real combat training value. PLA weapons crews know how the weapon looks like when it releases from the machine or the missile canister. This is the kinds of great training value the PLA gets through these exercises.

While the experts predicted that after the 7th of August that things would calm down, however I think what we’re going to see over the next months is constant pressure from PLA pressing in against Taiwan, closer and closer. Very similar to what the PRC has done for the last 10 years against Japan in the Senkaku islands. Like we saw recently when four Chinese warships were inside the territorial waters of the Senkaku. Constant pressure to break Japan and Taiwan.

So, there is no substitute for being on your ship or your aircraft, and having to really do it under real world conditions. This is what the PLA is doing with these live fire demonstrations against Taiwan—getting real world combat training.

The PLA is penetrating and probing Taiwan and Japan, and this form of political warfare is against the will, resolve and the morale of the Taiwan military, especially when you see your enemy on your doorstep every day.

Interviewer: Yes.

Cap. Fanell: That kind of pressure didn’t really exist 10 years ago, but now it’s on a daily presence, or almost. The PRC’s maritime forces (PLAN, Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia) don’t daily enter into Japan’s territory waters, the 12-mile limit. but the Chinese pressure the Japanese Coast Guard on a daily basis. Well, this is going to be happening even more to Taiwan now, and it’s not going to let up.

The PRC is trying to break the Taiwan people and the Taiwan military. If you take a spoon or fork and you bend it up and down, at some point, that metal gets very weak. That’s the breaking point. China is doing this with Taiwan. They’re breaking Taiwan’s will. They’re breaking their military’s capabilities because every time China comes close to Taiwan, the Taiwan military has to respond. As with the spoon, if you keep doing this, it’s going to break–breaking Taiwan’s operational readiness.

The Chinese website, China Daily, published an article that showed a Chinese warship looking at a Taiwan frigate. Behind the Taiwan frigate, you can see the big mountains of the east coast of Taiwan. That’s how close the Chinese warships are coming to Taiwan now. That’s a form of psychological warfare because if you’re in Taiwan and you can see Chinese warships just off your shore, that has a psychological impact, maybe not on all the civilians, but it certainly does on the Taiwan military.

In this picture from the China Daily, the Taiwan frigate is rusty. I’ve been with the Taiwan Navy, and they’re very meticulous, like the Japanese navy. The Taiwan Navy doesn’t allow rust, but they have been at sea for an extended period of time. First the Taiwan Navy had been in Exercise Han Kuang since July, which is their big national exercise every year to defend Taiwan. This was well before the PLA’s 4-7 August major live-fire exercise occurred.

So when you see this Taiwan frigate it probably had been at sea for couple of weeks and then the PLAN rolled into Taiwan’s waters with this major exercise, and the Taiwan Navy and its sailors haven’t had a chance to go back into port. If you’re out at sea for several weeks, rust starts to come, and you usually wait until you go back into port to clean everything up. But again, they haven’t had a chance to do that because they’re under constant pressure by the PRC. That’s an example of the pressure that’s being applied to the Taiwan military, one that erodes and undercuts their operational readiness.

You can only be at what we call “general quarters”, the heightened alert posture when there’s an emergency. When a ship is at “general quarters” the alarm bell goes off in the ship, and it is announced, “Emergency, emergency. General quarters, general quarters.” Then all sailors go to their battle-stations and prepares for combat.

A ship and crew can only stay in that heightened state of readiness for a limited amount of time because humans have to rest. Like with the example of the spoon, if you keep bending it up and down, it’s going to break. China is stressing the Taiwan military and trying to break their operational readiness. That’s the general situation.

Another complication factor was a Taiwan poll after Pelosi’s visit showing that 60% of the Taiwanese people said, ‘No, we’re not worried about a military conflict.’ The Taiwan civilian population appears to not really be concerned about what’s going on. This is another indicator of the success of the Chinese information warfare, psychological warfare. Because of this atmosphere of apparent apathy, it will make it very hard for President Tsai and her administration to mobilize the people to take up defense against what’s happening.

And then I think you asked me what should be done, what should Biden do as the next part. I’m going to tell you what I think they should do, and then we can talk about what we think they will do later. These are two different scenarios.

So, what I think they should do is the United States should formally declare an end to the “One China” and “Strategic Ambiguity” policies. The U.S. should say, ‘We (America) should no longer recognize [the One China policy], as enshrined in the “Three Communiques” because the People’s Republic of China has now violated the understanding that both sides would respect the status quo and seek to peacefully resolve their differences. Because of the PRC’s threatening military actions, it is clear the “One China Policy” is null and void.’

Secondly, the United States should announce, with Japan, Australia and hopefully India, the establishment of a new combined national command center in Taiwan to help Taiwan defend themselves against the PRC. Like in Korea, there is a combined command with the United States, South Korea and the United Nations that’s been there since 1953. We’ve had a combined command center in Seoul, where the militaries of the free world defend themselves against North Korea. Even Japan is a part of that. The government of Japan provides logistical support for the Combined Forces Command of Korea. Japan even has bases that support the combined force effort for the defense of the Korean peninsula. So, we should do the same thing for Taiwan and establish a combined command center.

Then the United States should announce, with the coordination and approval of the Taiwan government, that they will immediately deploy the U.S. Seventh Fleet and the Fifth Air Force to Taiwan to provide defense against these potential attacks from China.

Additionally, the United States should make announcements about U.S. military force allocation. Today, we have 50% of our warships in the Pacific, 50% in the Atlantic, we (the U.S.) should now make a big shift and announce we’re sending over 25% of the Atlantic fleet [for a total of 75% of the US Navy] to the Pacific, so that the Chinese would recognize they have opened up a hornet’s nest and they’re going to get a serious reaction from the U.S..

Now, I understand that some people will say that’s provocative and China will counter-attack, but I don’t think China will attack just yet. They have their own timeline, and I don’t think they’re quite there yet and ready to do it.

So, I think the United States should move immediately to make these kinds of announcements and then call on the United Nations and the rest of the world to condemn what China has done. No one is condemning what China has done. There are more people talking about how bad Speaker Pelosi’s visit was instead of condemning the outrageous and violent military actions of the PRC.

Now, I’m not a defender of Speaker Pelosi, but the fact that she went to Taiwan isn’t a justification for what China has done. That’s not acceptable behavior. We cannot accept that. So, the U.S. and the rest of the world should come out and condemn the PRC and say what the PLA has done is wrong and unacceptable.

Then we need to start increasing our military presence there.

There are other issues that could be discussed, but a massive reaction in terms of demonstrating American military resolve, should made. ,

Additionally, there should be a resumption of tariffs. President Trump implemented phase one of the tariffs. The Biden Administration should reinforce phase one and go immediately to phase two and phase three against China economically. China should be punished economically for what they’ve done.

Diplomatically, there should be a diplomatic effort to condemn what China has done and to remove them or isolate them from positions of leadership in international organizations like the United Nations or World Trade Organization.

So, this effort must be made across the spectrum of national power: diplomacy, information, military and economic levers. These levers of national power should be used to confront China, because if we do not, China will see this as a vacuum and they will fill the vacuum with their ideology, economic, diplomatic and military presence. If America does not make a bold statement about this, then China will see this as weakness and will continue on their timeline of conquest and intimidation.

Interviewer: In terms of countering the Chinese A2/AD strategy, how do you see the Biden Administration’s strategy toward China?

Cap. Fanell: I think it’s very difficult right now because we don’t seem to be confronting China. Let me rephrase that…the U.S. has done some things right. For instance, the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and other amphibious large deck ships were on patrol in the region when the PLA conducted their military exercise against Taiwan.

So, on the one hand, we are doing some things, but I think we need to do more. In order to contain that part of the PLAs Anti-Access Area Denial strategy, what they call their Counter-Intervention Strategy, we need to operate forward.

The PRC wants to counter any military intervention by the United States and one of the tools is the PLA Rocket Forces, which will be used to isolate both Taiwan, American and Japanese forces from getting into the theater of operations.

So how do you counter China’s rocket force? Well, you must bring in counter batteries like the Theater High Area Air Defense, THAD, or Patriot. These missile defense systems should be brought in and put on the Japanese Ryukyu Islands and Guam, as well as, our ships so that we could have a robust missile defense system. That’s one way to counter the Chinese A2/AD capabilities.

Another one is to have the ability to shoot missiles at the mainland of China. We know that the Chinese rockets are coming from the mainland. We can know where those rockets are located after they’re launched.

So the question is, do we having the capability to shoot back? I’m not saying to shoot back, I’m just asking do we have the capability to shoot into mainland China and counter their ballistic missile batteries? Can we destroy those batteries and present that to the Chinese and say, “Hey, if you fire another missile, we’re going to start attacking the mainland.”

Now, again, people will say that’s provocative, and it could cause a nuclear war because China is a nuclear power. Yes, but that’s always the argument from those who push engagement and appeasement with the PRC. But it’s not acceptable to say that we can do nothing.

It’s almost like what we’re seeing with the Ukraine. We are told we can’t do anything to Russia because Russia has nukes. Which is basically a strategy of giving up and saying, “Yes, Russia can do whatever it wants to do to the Ukraine.”

This is not rational.

We have to get over this fear that Russia or China are going to go to nuclear war. They’re not going to do that. They’re not irrational. They will use that to try to intimidate us to not act. Instead, we need to use all options, even the threat of attacking their mainland, to threaten them with capabilities, and they haven’t been threatened with before.

It’s time to present a credible threat to the Chinese mainland—we can do this together as allies, Japan, the U.S., and even Taiwan.

Interviewer: Definitely. Can we go back to your view about what the Biden Administration will do to defend Taiwan? Because we talked about what the Biden Administration should do.

Cap. Fanell: Right. Simple answer—I don’t think they’ll do anything that is required to deter the PRC’s aggression.

I think what the Biden Administration demonstrated in Afghanistan, in Ukraine, and now demonstrating in this Taiwan scenario, is that this administration is not taking a strong leaderships role when it comes to these challenges to international stability and peace and the threat to America and our allies. It’s very disappointing to see there’s been such a weak response. Yes, there have been some words. Secretary Blinken was in the region right after this PLA exercise on 4-7 August. He said some good things, but they’re not being backed up by demonstrations of American resolve and military power.

My fear is that this administration is comprised of people that really have a track record of failure. You have, for instance, Kurt Campbell, the Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs on the National Security Council. He was the architect of the failure of the 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident when the Obama administration turned a blind eye to China’s seizure of Scarborough Shoal, in the Philippines, a treaty ally of the U.S.. Now we’re watching the same thing play out in a different way. Kurt is now the “Asia Tsar” in this administration, but now we have this situation with Taiwan, and he’s essentially said and done nothing to demonstrate American resolve against the PRC and commitment to its friends and allies.

In April, Kurt Campbell threatened the Solomon Island’s Prime Minister of Sogavare by saying, ‘If you sign a deal with China, a security pact, then America will retaliate against the Solomon Islands.’

Now in August 2022, with the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, the United States sent a delegation to the Solomon Islands led by Miss Wendy Sherman and our ambassador to Australia, Miss Kennedy. But Prime Minister Sogavare did not attend the ceremony. Instead of pouring oil on the water (a Navy euphemism meaning to calm the tensions with the Solomons), Campbell’s statements from April instead where like throwing gasoline on fire. In my opinion, he’s demonstrated that he is not competent to hold his office and should be removed. So, this is the kind of people that the Biden administration is being served by.

Then you have Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, another failure of the Biden (and Obama) administration. After these launches of the weapons and missiles [on August 4th], he said, ‘We don’t support an independent Taiwan.’ Why did he make such a statement in the face of the PRC’s overt military threats? Why did he feel it necessary to make shut a statement? Was he making that statement to mollify the PRC?

Instead, he should have said, ‘We support Taiwan’s right to be free and determine their own way forward, which is what the original One China policy intended.’ He should have gone on to state the facts, that the One China policy was not an agreement that the PRC was in charge of Taiwan. That’s a big difference. But the Biden administration refuses to make that distinction.

So, shame on them for not making that clear and for putting 23 million Taiwan citizens lives at risk, not to mention the lives of many millions of Japanese who will be involved in any PRC invasion of Taiwan. What we should be doing right now, is demonstrating that what America stands for is what we’ve always stood for, freedom and liberty.

It’s very worrisome that we have such weak and ineffective political leaders that are more concerned with political correctness, appeasing the PRC, and this new woke ideology than they are with classic statements of American resolve and determination for freedom and liberty.

The Trump administration understood the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them and challenge them with real capabilities. That’s what needs to happen. I’m afraid this administration just isn’t capable of doing it. They don’t have the right people, instead they are people who have a track record of fear, intimidation and weakness.

They view the military as something that they do not like, and they do not want the U.S. military to be in a position of leadership when it comes to these issues.

Now you should notice you don’t hear American admirals and generals speaking up sharply against China like you did during the Trump administration. They’ve hidden their voices. Admiral Aquilino and others spoke out when Trump was in charge. Now they’re not speaking out as loudly as before.

You can see this reflected during the memorial event in Solomon Island in August, the head of the delegation was Wendy Sherman and Ambassador Kennedy. But there was not one report of a Marine Corp four-star General, like the Commandant of the Marine Corps, or the four-star Admiral, like the Commander of Indoi-Pacific Command Admiral Aquilino. There were no names and there were no pictures of senior U.S. military officers, why not?

There was no presentation of American military power because this administration is led by people that are so far to the left that they are anti-military when it comes to demonstrating U.S. national resolve.

So, this is how they are trying to deal with the PRC, using appeasement to hope the PRC will moderate Beijing’s behavior. But the facts are this approach has failed.

They may recognize China as a threat, but they’re trying to deal with China with their arm behind their back, the military arm. They’re tying it behind their back and saying, “Well, we can’t lead with the military because that’s not what we want to do, because that gets us into a world war, even a nuclear war.” This is wrong-headed thinking.

Interviewer: To what degree do you think the situation will get worse?

Cap. Fanell: Well, my assessment now is that given what’s going on domestically in the United States, Beijing is watching very closely whether Trump or Trump supporters will sweep back into power in the U.S. Government and thus change American foreign policy to a more robust and traditional American foreign policy. The Chinese government probably believes they have a limited time to acquire Taiwan, and that they may choose to use military force before 2024. It’s quite possible.

What we will see is this constant pressure from the PLA against Taiwan over the next eight months, and then maybe in the spring, when they say there are two periods where the weather is the best chance for a cross-strait invasion–in the April time frame and in the October time frame.

So it’s possible that as early as April of 2023, the PLA could launch an invasion against Taiwan. It’s possible. And because they’ll have been constantly pressing Taiwan over an eight month period, Taiwan’s forces are going to get run down like a battery. You put a battery in a flashlight, and if you keep the flashlight on, at some point the battery starts to go down. And so how do we get a new battery into Taiwan’s military? How do we get a new battery into the American military? That’s the question.

China understands that. And so, they’re going to wait until that battery runs almost down, and then they’ll choose to strike. And the concern that I have, is that we’re not prepared for that. If I suddenly thrust my hand very close to your face, at first, you would jump back. Maybe the second time, you’d jump back. But if I kept doing that for an hour, after a while, you’d get used to it. And you’d let my fingers come up almost to your eyeballs, and you wouldn’t flinch. You wouldn’t move. And so, this is what China is doing to Taiwan. But as we saw in the poll already, the Taiwanese civilian people are not really concerned about what’s going on. And China can see this as well. So, this is another complication of the situation.

Interviewer: Can I ask you about Quad? How do you see China’s potential seizure of the Solomon Island in terms of affecting the Quad?

Cap. Fanell: I think China is advancing into the South Pacific, again -I think I told you the last time we spoke in 2017 – the Chinese government said that they were going to establish three blue economic corridors as part of their Belt and Road Initiative.

One through the South China Sea into the Indian Ocean. One into the Arctic, through the Sea of Japan. And then one into the South Pacific. So, the PRC told us in 2017 and no one listened.

Now here we are, five years later and China has a security agreement with the Solomon Islands. And I know Prime Minister Sogavare told Ms. Sherman and told Prime Minister Albanese, the Prime Minister of Australia, “Oh, we’re never going to allow China to have a navy base here.” Okay. That’s what he says today and maybe he means that. But the People’s Republic of China intends to have a foothold in the South Pacific. That’s their intention. So, one way or another, they’re going to pressure Prime Minister Sogavare. And if he took bribes from them, if he took money from them to keep himself in power, at some point they will ask him to do what he said he would never do, which is to have a base.

As such, we can expect that China will continue to push for military presence and availability. And maybe it’s not a big base like they have in Djibouti, just yet. Maybe it’s just a small ability to move ships in and out and aircraft, and they’ve already done that. China has already had Y-20 transport aircraft fly into the Solomon Islands after the volcanic explosions in Tonga back in January 2022, when the PLAAF flew resupplies from China to Tonga via the Solomons. Now there is this new PRC-Solomon Islands security pact, so I expect to see more of PLA presence in the Solomon Islands. And as time goes on, China will use these visits to establish what I called an ‘iron bar’ across the South Pacific that will divide Australia, New Zealand from America and Japan. It will isolate Australia and New Zealand.

Interviewer: I’m concerned that it seems more and more countries are distancing themselves from the US, in terms of diplomatic policy. How do you see this situation, which may possibly affect the function of QUAD?

Cap. Fanell: Right. The impact of the current administration’s weakness is eroding the trust in our alliance structure that has been successfully used in the post-World War Two environment. America’s leadership around the world isn’t because we are occupying countries and threatening people like the Soviet Union did during the Cold War. Yes, America has a lot of military troops in Japan, in Germany, in Korea, and even in Australia, but they’re always there at the approval of the host nation.

Japan accepts our troops because they understand these Americans are their to give their lives for the people of Japan. They also know, that if the day that the Japanese government came to Washington, no matter who was president and said, “We don’t want any more American troops there.” The Americans would say, “Fine, we may disagree with you, but it’s your country, and we will leave.”

We know this because after the Mount Pinatubo explosion in ‘91, the Philippine government voted on whether or not to keep the United States military in the Philippines. And by one vote, the Philippine Senate said, “We want the Americans to leave.” Guess what? The Americans, we left. We pulled our Navy out and our air force out, and we left.

Now, we have since come back on a rotational basis at the invitation of the Philippines. But the strength of the American system, and maybe it’s unique in world history, is that we didn’t rule by military force. We ruled by consensus and by agreement, and by alliances.

The world knows America is not an occupying force, but the world does not know about the PRC and what they will be.

So, when the Quad was revitalized under the Trump administration in 2017, there was a lot of hope that Japan, the U.S., India, and Australia could really start to work together to present a credible deterrence to China.

Yet, I’m now concerned because what we’re seeing from India; they saw what happened in Afghanistan. It wasn’t that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a bad idea, because Trump had said he was going to pull us out as well. But it was the way that it was done—the execution was an absolute disaster and seriously has damaged America’s credibility.

The fact that we gave up Bagram Airbase, which is a key strategic airbase in the region, and strategic for India’s security, has eroded the foundations of the Quad. Now the PRC is closer to India from a different vector, from Afghanistan. The American withdrawl from Afghanistant was poorly executed and has caused India to be skeptical of America’s commitment to the Quad and the Indo-Pacific.
India has a history of being non-aligned. They didn’t want to align to America or the Soviet Union during the Cold War, they didn’t want to pick and choose sides.

But the PRC started their military expansionism in the early 2000s and over the next 20 years of PRC military modernization, India watched and observed this PLA military modernization, but still kept their distance and didn’t say much.

Then in 2020 when the PRC killed over 20 Indian soldiers on the disputed Line of Actual Control. This event had a dramatic effect on India. Now the Modi administration has signaled that they will not sit by and allow this to happen again. The Indian government now realizes that they are confronting an aggressive neighbor (China) and have got to be prepared.

This is the perfect time for the United States, led by the Biden administration, to really get close to India. But instead, it appears this administration, despite having Quad senior leader talks, has convinced India that they’re not very serious about implementing the Quad. I find this to be very worrisome.

Now, some good news: it was just announced the U.S. Army is sending troops to India. So maybe, I’m being a little bit too pessimistic, and maybe there’s still some hope for the Quad, because I believe we need institutions of combined effort by our countries to confront China. Because when China invades Taiwan, it’s going to be, in a way, like what we saw when Putin’s army invaded Ukraine. It brought the world together in a way that we haven’t seen before. When Hitler invaded Europe, it brought the United Kingdom, Europe and America. I would expect that if China were to invade Taiwan, it would also bring the rest of the world together to confront and combat the PRC.

Interviewer: Sri Lanka is now going through a complex situation, but if China turns Sri Lanka into its military base, it possibly means that China can hold a missile to the throat of India. How do you see Sri Lanka’s geopolitical impact?

Cap. Fanell: I think it’s entirely possible, given the furor in the Sri Lankan government, with all that’s happened here in the last month, with the resignations of the prime minister and the president, the riots and the lack of food. It really is a tumultuous time and given Sri Lanka owes money to China this does not bode well. So, the question is, will China try and take advantage of this situation in Sri Lanka and push to establishment a base? I believe the Chinese will try to do that.

The question is whether or not the Sri Lankan people will allow it. And my sense is that the Sri Lankan people are not big fans of China, but they’re poor and need of more money. So, if China can come in with money and supplies, then it may be another way for China to worm its way into Sri Lanka. And if they’re able to establish some kind of military facility there, a base, then it’s possible that they could come in with some kind of ballistic missile. I think if that were to happen, I think India would not sit by quietly.

Interviewer: I see. In the previous interview, you talked about the US military’s network-centered warfare. China has been making efforts to gain military superiority in space. How do you see the competition regarding superiority in space?

Cap. Fanell: Right. China continues to launch satellites into space at an alarming rate. They continue to be perceived as weaponizing space. We saw some activity on the moon recently with some craters there that were attributed to be from PRC space vehicles.

What China is doing is to weaponize space to threaten the America and Japan’s network-centric warfare capabilities that are based on a robust space architecture. China’s also trying to establish their own superiority in space, which is difficult given the complexities of space operations.

What I do know is that as the PLA Navy operates farther from their shores, in the mid-Pacific, in the Indian Ocean, or even in the Atlantic Ocean, they’re going to need a robust space capability, which is bad news and good news. The bad news is that they’re building this capability and they will use it for their own advantage. The good news is it makes them more vulnerable because now they will become dependent upon space-based information. So, we, on our side, should be thinking about how we can destroy their space capabilities.

Interviewer: We should pay more attention to this issue. It is also said that the US has an advantage over China in cyber warfare capabilities. So, for instance, can the US disrupt China’s chain of command?

Cap. Fanell: I think that in the realm of cyber, there’s a lot of unknowns. It’s hard to say who has the most capability in the cyber arena. The United States clearly has a cyber command and the cyber forces, and we’ve been focused on this at least since before I retired, going back to the 2010-time frame or just before. So, for about 15 years America has been working on cyber as a domain of warfare. China has also been working on it. And we know China has the Wumao, “the 50 Cent Army” that use the internet to spred disinformation and conduct psychological warfare operations. That’s a different kind of cyber, but it’s still the ability to use their netizens to cause disruption, denial of service attacks and things of that nature. And China has 1.4 billion people, so they can bring a lot of power and disruption in the cyber arena.

As such, American and Japan have to be careful of that because our militaries depend upon assured access to information and data. We also now that China is very seriously going after big data. For instance, maybe you’ve heard maybe of this concept that China has been working on under Xi Jinping, called Digital China. Under the rubric of Digital China, the PRC is seeking to acquire all sorts of data, and then they’re going to use that data for all kinds of purposes, for economic warfare, for information warfare, etc. We should also expect they would use Digital China’s acquisition of big data for military warfare. We have to be prepared for that, which means we have to have the capability to defend our own systems and to be able to threaten PRCs.

Interviewer: I see. Lastly, can I ask again what you think should be the U.S.’s top priorities, strategy, and specific policies towards China, especially after the midterm elections or after the presidential election?

Cap. Fanell: I think the first priority is to get back to what the Trump administration had done, which was to declare China a strategic competitor. Maybe we can go one point further and say that the PRC is a strategic adversary, not just a competitor.

We should also accelerate the decoupling of our economies. We need to get about the business of isolating China. It will be difficult, and there will be pain for our economies because our nations, both Japan and America, have companies that are invested in China. While this is going to be very difficult, it has to be pursued, because if we don’t, we’re just going to keep feeding the dragon, and the dragon will get bigger and more powerful and more dangerous.

Finally, we have to then get serious about our own national defense.

From an American perspective, we’ve got to get back to being a forward deployed naval power. For 30 years, the U.S. was focused on the desert in the Middle East, on ground warfare against terrorists. But now it’s time to get back to great power competition, great power adversary relationships, and we need to have a strong navy and air force that is forward, that can deal with China and keep them essentially bottled up. That, again, is a very difficult task, and it takes national will and national leadership.

So that’s what’s important about the midterm elections in November and then the follow-on presidential election, which is why what happened at Mar-a-Lago is so dangerous because we now have a domestic political situation where we have one party that’s actually pre-emptively trying to prevent their political opponent from actually participating in the democratic process. This then puts our defense against the PRC at great risk.

Interviewer: We need to protect the democratic process. And the next president should be tough enough to get those difficult things done.

Cap. Fanell: Yes. The next president must take these initiatives on and make these changes. Otherwise, China is at a point where they’re going to be so powerful that no one will be able to stop them again.

US President Must Bring Back a Stronger America
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