US Official: Stronger Indo-Pacific Military Relations Needed to Keep Peace

John Bechtel
2022.03.09
Washington
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US Official: Stronger Indo-Pacific Military Relations Needed to Keep Peace The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and other U.S. Navy ships sail in a passing honors ceremony with the JS Ikazuchi and JS Chōkai, destroyers in the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, in the Pacific Ocean, Sept. 19, 2021.
Haydn N. Smith/U.S. Navy via AP

The United States should strengthen defense relationships in the Indo-Pacific region in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a potential similar one involving China and Taiwan, the leader of a congressional committee on military affairs said Wednesday.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith discussed his concerns while presiding over a hearing on national security challenges and military activities in the Indo-Pacific region. Lawmakers heard from Ely Ratner, an assistant secretary of defense for the region; Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command; and Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, commander of U.S. Forces in Korea.

“The entire world is a challenge with Russia’s unprovoked and devastating invasion of Ukraine,” Smith said in his opening remarks. “We have been reminded that we can’t just focus on one part of the world, but the Indo-Pacific region is clearly one of the most important regions in the world.”

Smith noted that China is the country most capable of competing with the U.S. in terms of economic and military strength.

“We all want a world where China and the U.S. peacefully coexist,” he said while questioning if China had the same wish. “It has become clear that president Xi [Jinping] and China intend something more combative than that.”

Lawmakers asked questions about China’s actions in the Indo-Pacific – specifically toward its democratic neighbor Taiwan in light of the Russian invasion.

Ratner said the U.S. had not changed its position related to the One China Policy – under which Washington recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taiwan.

Aquilino, for his part, said the military had to take a more robust approach in the region.

“This is a real wakeup,” he replied when asked to compare the Russian invasion with what China could do against Taiwan.

“We have to look at this and say ‘hey, this could happen,’ and I have a sense of urgency to execute the mission the secretary has assigned, which is to prevent this conflict.”

Aquilino said China has learned from watching Russia’s actions in Ukraine – specifically about the “investment in blood” that would be required to launch such an attack, the international condemnation that followed and the reactions of people to being attacked.

Asked if China wanted war with the U.S., Aquilino said Beijing had not ruled out the use of force.

“My task has been to be ready.”

He said the U.S. participates in 120 exercises a year across the globe and is looking to expand.

He noted that troops had been in Thailand for the annual multi-nation Cobra Gold and would be in the Philippines for the upcoming bilateral Balikatan training exercises. The exercises have been scaled down in recent years as the world has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked about U.S. efforts in the region, Ratner replied that the “trend line is in the right direction.”

Aquilino agreed, noting that military-to-military operations are strong.

‘Balancing force’ for peace

Smith, the committee’s chairman who is a Democrat from Washington state, said China had taken an authoritarian approach to the region.

“We need to compete against that to convince the world to go in a different direction,” Smith said about U.S. efforts to spread democracy abroad. “To do that, we need a robust presence in the Indo-Pacific region. … Our military is a huge part of that.

“We have important defense relationships certainly with Japan and South Korea but with a number of other countries as well. We must maintain and strengthen those relationships and we must attempt to be a balancing force to keep the peace in Asia.”

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