The Pentagon will continue to shift forces to the Pacific to counter what a top commander has deemed a “massive” military buildup by China.
Adm. Philip Davidson, the U.S. Navy’s new Indo-Pacific theater commander, said the U.S. military’s efforts to bolster its presence in the region is necessary to counter aggressive efforts by China to expand its influence and force the region to bend to Beijing’s wishes.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Davidson told members that China’s military buildup consists of large numbers of new, advanced missiles, planes, warships, submarines, and nuclear forces. In addition, he described China as “the greatest long-term threat to a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the Washington Free Beacon reported.
“Through fear and economic pressure, Beijing is working to expand its form of communist-socialist ideology in order to bend, break, and replace the existing rules-based international order,” the PACOM commander said.
“In its place, Beijing seeks to create a new international order led by China and with Chinese characteristics,” Davidson noted further, an outcome that will replace the over 70 years of U.S.-backed peace and stability.
Davidson told the committee the Pentagon was adding additional weapons and forces to the region in response to China’s continued buildup of conventional, nuclear, and “gray zone” forces, the latter amounting to influence operations short of traditional armed conflict. China uses its maritime militia and Coast Guard in this manner.
Currently, PACOM is staffed with approximately 375,000 military and civilian personnel, some 200 warships including five aircraft carrier strike groups, and some 1,100 aircraft, the Free Beacon noted.
“Over the last 20 years, Beijing has undertaken a massive effort to grow and modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” Davidson said.
“The PLA is the principal threat to U.S. interests, U.S. citizens, and our allies inside the first island chain—a term that refers to the islands that run from northern Japan through Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia—and the PLA is quickly increasing its ability to project power and influence beyond the first island chain,” he added.
U.S. allies in the region have grown increasingly concerned over the past couple of years as China has become more aggressive and assertive in the region, constructing islands in the South China Sea and equipping them with surface-to-air missiles, radar systems, and runways for warplanes.
During Davidson’s testimony, Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), the new Armed Services chairman, said the U.S. military needs “urgent change at a significant scale” to deal with China.
“Our military advantage and deterrent edge in the Indo-Pacific is eroding,” Inhofe said. “The Chinese Communist Party leadership in Beijing senses weakness. They are testing our resolve, and if we do not act urgently, they may soon conclude that they can achieve their goals through force. We can’t take that peace for granted.”
Davidson noted that the South China Sea has become the most volatile flashpoint for conflict between the U.S. and her allies and China.
In addition to meeting security concerns, the U.S. has legitimate economic interests in the region as well. Total “trade with regional states in Southeast Asia totaled more than $1.8 trillion in 2017 and more than $1.3 trillion by the third quarter of 2018,” the Free Beacon noted.
Because of the importance of the region for trade and commerce, the U.S. called on China to remove sophisticated missiles from its islands in November, The Diplomat reported.
“The United States called on China to withdraw its missile systems from disputed features in the Spratly Islands, and reaffirmed that all countries should avoid addressing disputes through coercion or intimidation,” the U.S. statement said following the second annual U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue.
Director of the Office of Foreign Affairs of the Central Commission of the Communist Party of China and Politburo member Yang Jiechi responded, “The Chinese side made it clear to the United States that it should stop sending its vessels and military aircraft close to Chinese islands and reefs and stop actions that undermine China’s sovereignty and security interests.”