The Chinese military has become considerably more aggressive and dangerous over the past five years, the most senior US military officer said during a trip to the Indo-Pacific region that included a stop in Indonesia yesterday.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the number of intercepts by Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region with US and other partner forces has increased significantly over that time, and the number of unsafe interactions has risen by similar proportions.
“The message is the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, have become significantly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region,” said Milley, who recently asked his staff to compile details about interactions between China and the US and others in the region.
His comments came as the US redoubles its efforts to bolster its relationships with Pacific nations as a counterbalance to China, which is trying to expand its presence and influence in the region. US President Joe Biden’s administration considers China its “pacing threat” and the US’ primary long-term security challenge.
Milley’s trip to the region is sharply focused on the China threat. He is to attend a meeting of Indo-Pacific chiefs of defense this week in Sydney, Australia, where key topics would be China’s escalating military growth and the need to maintain a free, open and peaceful Pacific.
US military officials have also raised alarms about the possibility that China could invade Taiwan. China has stepped up its military provocations against Taiwan as it looks to intimidate it into unifying with the communist nation.
China’s top military officer, General Li Zuocheng (李作成), told Milley in a July 7 call that Beijing had “no room for compromise” on issues such as Taiwan.
He said he told Milley that the US must “cease US-Taiwan military collusion and avoid impacting China-US ties and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
The US and others are also worried that a security agreement that Beijing signed in April with the Solomon Islands could lead to the establishment of a Chinese naval base in the South Pacific.
“This is an area in which China is trying to do outreach for their own purposes, and again, this is concerning because China is not doing it just for benign reasons,” Milley told reporters traveling with him. “They’re trying to expand their influence throughout the region, and that has potential consequences that are not necessarily favorable to our allies and partners in the region.”
Milley declined to provide specific numbers of unsafe Chinese interactions with US and allied aircraft and ships.
Milley said there have been Chinese intercepts with Australia, Canada, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
They all have seen a “statistically significant” increase in intercepts, and the number of unsafe incidents has increased by an “equal proportion,” he said.
Milley, who met with General Andika Perkasa, commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, said Pacific nations like Indonesia want the US military involved and engaged in the region.
“We want to work with them to develop interoperability and modernize our militaries collectively” to ensure they can “meet whatever challenge that China poses,” Milley said.
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