China poses the greatest long-term strategic threat in the 21st century, a top Pentagon commander told lawmakers on Wednesday, alleging that Beijing’s very pernicious approach to the region includes a whole of party effort to coerce, corrupt and co-opt governments, businesses, organizations and the people of the Indo-Pacific.
“…the greatest long-term strategic threat in the 21st century … is the People’s Republic of China. In stark contrast to our free and open vision, the Communist Party of China promotes a closed and authoritarian system through internal oppression, as well as external aggression,” Admiral Phil Davidson, commander of United States Indo-Pacific Command, told members of the House Armed Services Committee.
“China’s very pernicious approach to the region includes a whole of party effort to coerce, corrupt and co-opt governments, businesses, organisations and the people of the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
As China continues to increase the size of the PLA and advance their joint capabilities, the military balance in the Indo-Pacific is becoming more unfavourable for the United States and its allies, Davidson said.
“With this imbalance, we are accumulating risk that may embolden China to unilaterally change the status quo before our forces may be able to deliver an effective response. The greatest danger the United States and our allies face in the region is the erosion of conventional deterrence vis-a-vis the People’s Republic of China,” he said.
Absent a convincing deterrent, China will be emboldened to continue to take action to supplant the established rules-based international order and the values represented in the vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, he said.
“Our deterrence posture in the Indo-Pacific must demonstrate the capability, the capacity and the will to convince Beijing, unequivocally, that the cost of achieving their objectives by the use of military force are simply too high. Indeed, we must be doing everything possible to deter conflict. Our number one job is to keep the peace. But we absolutely must be prepared to fight and win should competition turn to conflict,” he told the lawmakers.
‘Not asking nations to choose between US & China’
Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey told lawmakers that the US is not asking nations to choose between the United States or China.
“In fact, we welcome and encourage all nations across the Indo-Pacific to maintain peaceful, productive relations with all of their neighbours, China included. Framing the strategic competition that we find ourselves in with China as a choice between us or China, or as a choice between nations is really a false choice,” he said.
“The choice that our allies and our partners and everyone in the region faces is between supporting the existing international order, the existing system. It’s free and open. It’s the system that we helped to create and that we’ve supported, and that we believe has benefited everybody in the region, including China–and the alternative now that China is presenting, which is a closed system and a more authoritarian governance model,” he said.
So it’s a competition between systems, and it’s a choice between systems, he told the lawmakers.
Responding to a question, Davidson alleged that the Chinese are trying to basically impose Chinese national law on the international regime that provides for the freedom of navigation and freedom of the seas. “We’ve spoken quite a bit about the Chinese use of lawfare. This is one of the methodologies in which they do it.”
“It’s not just the naming or renaming of features that have had long standing names and the region, it’s the redefinition of what they might be, because, rocks islets, islands all have very specific navigational rights associated with them, as well as their continued militarisation of the features that they built out early in the last decade,” he said.
Their continued militarisation is to deter not only the United States, but truly cow all of US allies and partners in the region, and certainly the South China Sea claimants from their absolute rights to operate and those rights that they enjoy for economic resource extraction of freedom of the seas, freedom of the airways, et cetera, he said.