Skip to main content

Taiwanese artillery participate in live-fire drills in Pingtung, Taiwan on Aug. 9.LAM YIK FEI/The New York Times

China is likely to invade Taiwan within five years unless Canada and other Western allies band together to send tough economic and military warnings to Beijing, says the former naval commander of Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force.

Retired vice-admiral Toshiyuki Ito told The Globe and Mail that he believes President Xi Jinping is determined to gain control of self-governing Taiwan, and he will use the full might of China’s military to do so.

“Within five years, he will do something. He will use force,” Mr. Ito said in an interview Wednesday that was arranged by the Japanese embassy in Ottawa.

He said the democratic world needs to prepare for a Chinese invasion and to use the threat of economic sanctions and military readiness to ward off Beijing, saying he doesn’t want to see Taiwan turn into another Hong Kong. In 2020, China imposed a national-security law on Hong Kong that has effectively criminalized dissent or free speech.

Security experts predict China will be capable of invading Taiwan by 2027

Mr. Ito said he would like to see the Royal Canadian Navy continue military exercises in the Indo-Pacific region and even join an informal four-country defence and security alliance involving the U.S., Japan, Australia and India.

This alliance, known as the Quad, is taking on greater significance in the Indo-Pacific amid rising concerns over China’s expanding military and political influence in the region.

The four Quad countries hold military exercises, semi-regular summits and forge co-operation on matters from protecting supply chains to cyberdefence in an arrangement that is seen as a counterweight to China’s growing power. Canadian war ships have participated in Quad naval exercises.

Mr. Ito said Western and developing countries fearful of China’s rise must also work co-operatively to speak out for a free and open Indo-Pacific and to make it clear that Beijing would face harsh economic sanctions if democratic Taiwan is attacked.

U.S. security experts anticipate China could act, or be ready to act, this decade.

In September, CNN reported CIA deputy director David Cohen as saying that while Mr. Xi has not made the decision to invade Taiwan, he wants the People’s Liberation Army to have the capability by 2027.

Last month, Admiral Mike Gilday, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations, said he is eyeing an even more imminent window for China to try to seize Taiwan by force.

“When we talk about the 2027 window, in my mind that has to be a 2022 window or potentially a 2023 window. I can’t rule that out. I don’t mean at all to be alarmist by saying that, it’s just that we can’t wish that away,” Adm. Gilday told a virtual event hosted in October by the Atlantic Council.

In July, 2021, then-deputy Japanese prime minister Taro Aso said his country must join forces with the United States to defend Taiwan if China invades. ”We need to think hard that Okinawa could be the next,” Mr. Aso was quoted by Kyodo News as saying.

Mr. Ito said a Chinese takeover of Taiwan would “totally change” the geopolitics of East Asia.

Japan’s hope of reclaiming Kuril Islands sinks as Russia’s war in Ukraine raises animosity in the Pacific

He predicted that the seizing of Taiwan would be the first step in what he sees as Beijing’s eventual goal of driving the United States out of the region and back to Hawaii.

“The Pacific would become the China Sea,” he said.

Mr. Ito also said that an annexation of Taiwan would be a precursor to the Chinese Communist Party leadership taking over the Japanese island of Okinawa.

More than 20 per cent of global trade transits the South China Sea, adjacent Taiwan, according to research by the China Project at the U.S. Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Kyodo News reported last week that Mr. Xi has called for securing Beijing’s interests over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands and the disputed South China Sea, saying achieving that goal represents a “heavy historical responsibility” for his generation, according to internal documents.

Japan’s government is planning a hike in defence spending amid rising concerns in Tokyo about China’s menacing of Taiwan and North Korea’s ballistic-missile aggression.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has said that it wants to double military spending over five years.

Mr. Ito, who is now a professor at Kanazawa Institute of Technology, said Japan wants to acquire more U.S. F-35 fighter jets, radar systems, unmanned combat drones and long-range missiles that can hit China and North Korea.

With reports from Reuters