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Top Commander: China ‘Eroding’ U.S. Military Advantage in Asia

China says the USS Hopper, center in this 2009 file photo, was involved in a close encounter near a Chinese island in the South China Sea this week. File photo by Michael A. Lantron/U.S. Navy/UPI
Michael A. Lantron/U.S. Navy/UPI
EDWIN MORA

WASHINGTON, DC — China’s “massive effort to grow and modernize” the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is “eroding” the United States’ “relative competitive military advantage” in the Indo-Pacific region, the top American commander in the area warned on Tuesday, stressing that Beijing’s communist leaders are sensing “weaknesses.”

Adm. Philip Davidson’s warnings came as part of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s (INDOPACOM) annual posture statement — a comprehensive report on the combatant command’s role, missions, accomplishments, plans, and programs — presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday in the form of written testimony.

Davidson, the commander of INDOPACOM, provided a summary of the combatant command’s 2019 posture statement during his opening remarks, telling lawmakers:

We need urgent change at significant scale to address the challenges, strategic competition with China. Our military advantage and deterrent edge in the Indo-Pacific is eroding. The Chinese Communist Party leadership in Beijing senses weaknesses. 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 these for granted.

Under U.S. President Donald Trump’s National Defense Strategy, the American military is prioritizing combating America’s strategic competitors China and Russia over everything else, including the war on terror.

In the posture statement, the top admiral described the “rapid modernization” of the Chinese military as “the most important security development in the Indo-Pacific” in recent years, adding:

The scope and scale of that modernization has caused USINDOPACOM’s relative competitive military advantage to erode in recent years. With the 2018 National Defense Strategy as a guide, USINDOPACOM is focused on regaining our competitive military advantage and ensuring a Free and Open Indo-Pacific over the short- and long-term.

Adm. Davidson identified the Chinese military as the top menace facing the U.S. military and American citizens in some of the regions covered by INDOPACOM’s area of responsibility (AOR).

Davidson declared in the statement:

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.

Davidson went on to note in the statement that China is pursuing advanced weapons systems and boosting its nuclear force as part of its modernization efforts.

He testified:

Beijing continues pursuing next-generation technologies and advanced weapons systems, including hypersonic glide vehicles, directed energy weapons, electromagnetic railguns, counterspace weapons, and unmanned and artificial intelligence-equipped weapons. The PLA has also made significant technological, game-changing developments in its ability to defeat, or drastically reduce, the effectiveness of U.S. sensors and defensive weapons. … Beijing is also modernizing and adding new capabilities across its nuclear forces.

While North Korea remains the “most immediate challenge until we achieve the final, fully verifiable denuclearization,” China “represents the greatest long-term strategic threat” to the United States, the admiral declared.

The top commander listed China as one of the top five key challenges threatening America’s vital national security interests in the Indo-Pacific region, along with North Korea, Russia, jihadi groups like the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), and “natural and man-made disasters.”

Adm. Davidson emphasized that the Chinese threat goes beyond mere competition between the traditional U.S. power and a rising China.

He explained in his opening remarks:

I believe we are facing something even more serious, a fundamental divergence in values that leads to two incompatible visions of the future. Through fear and coercion, Beijing is working to expand its form of [Communist-Socialist] ideology in order to bend, break and replace the existing rules-based international order. In its place, Beijing seeks to create a new order, one with Chinese characteristics led by China, an outcome that displaces the stability and peace of the Indo-Pacific that has endured for over 70 years.

Specifically, the admiral highlighted Beijing’s actions on the South China Sea as a significant threat against the “international order,” noting, “Beijing maintains maritime claims in the South China Sea that are contrary to international law and pose a substantial long-term threat to the rules-based international order.”

Last year, China reportedly “continued militarizing” its outposts on the South China Sea.

Beijing deployed “advanced military systems that further enhance the PLA’s power projection capabilities, including missiles and electronic jammers,” the admiral told the Senate panel, adding, “These actions run directly counter to [Chinese] President Xi’s 2015 commitment not to militarize these features.”

China is also using its military to advance its territorial claims in the East China Sea, the admiral cautioned.

Davidson also deemed China’s involvement in the influx of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl into the United States as a vital threat to Americans.

Fentanyl is fueling the unprecedented number of fatal drug overdoses that kill tens of thousands in the United States each year. The Trump administration has deemed overdose deaths a national security threat.

“Another challenge that affects the security environment indirectly is the continuing fentanyl and opioid crisis in the United States,” Davidson wrote in the posture statement. “Illicit fentanyl, as well as legal pre-cursor chemicals used in the production of illegal drugs primarily originate from China.”

In last year’s posture statement, INDOPACOM warned that China’s “impressive military buildup” may soon enable the PLA to challenge America’s military dominance in the Indo-Pacific region “across almost all domains.”

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