Perhaps the most intriguing new member of the commission and a sign of the times is the appointment of the air force’s commander, General Ma Xiaotian (馬曉天). He is an outspoken nationalist who, as a deputy chief of the general staff, has traveled all over Asia and to other countries in conducting the PLA’s foreign policy.
When China and the Philippines clashed over the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島) in the South China Sea, he told a TV interviewer that the “issue is none of the United States’ business,” but a dispute between China and the Philippines.
The US has called for protecting the freedom of navigation through the South China Sea.
At last year’s Shangri-La conference in Singapore, Ma tangled with Admiral Robert Willard, then chief of the US Pacific Command, demanding that the US cease naval and air surveillance in the East and South China Seas. He also reiterated in forceful terms Beijing’s standard demand that the US stop selling arms to Taiwan.
More recently, Ma met Admiral Samuel Locklear, the current Pacific Command leader, when Locklear visited Beijing last year. According to the PLA Daily newspaper, Ma repeated the demand that the US stop its naval and aerial reconnaissance of China.
Presumably, Locklear demurred.
Richard Halloran is a commentator in Hawaii.