The Obama administration’s ballyhooed military “pivot” to Asia is running into some frank talk from the top U.S. commander in the Pacific.
Three years after the Pentagon said it was de-emphasizing Europe in favor of the Asia-Pacific region, NavyAdm. Samuel J. Locklear III said this week that U.S. dominance has weakened in the shadow of a more aggressive China.
“Our historic dominance that most of us in this room have enjoyed is diminishing, no question,” Adm. Locklear, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, said Wednesday at a naval conference in Virginia.
Although Adm. Locklear said it is obvious that Chinese military power is growing, he suggested that it is unclear whether China will seek to be a hard adversary to the U.S. in the long term, so Washington should be working overtime on steering Beijing toward a cooperative security posture.
“[But] how are they behaving? That is really the question,” the admiral said, adding that the Pacific Command’s goal is for China “to be a net provider of security, not a net user of security.”
His remarks offered insight into the introspection at the Pentagon’s highest levels about how the U.S. should tailor its military presence in the region, where Beijing and Moscow — regional powerhouses and former Cold War adversaries to Washington — are keen to challenge U.S. dominance.
“The problem with this formulation is, for whom does Adm. Locklear think China will be providing security?” said Dean Cheng, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “The implicit answer is ‘to everyone,’ because the assumption is that we can somehow mold China into being ourselves — that China will see its interests as somehow congruent and coincident with those of the United States, and therefore China will assume the mantle of regional provider of public goods.
“But this is a remarkable assumption, especially in light of recent Chinese behavior. China is not interested in providing security for everyone and, frankly, not even for anyone other than itself. This is the kind of bizarre lens that led one of Adm. Locklear’s predecessors to offer to help China with its carrier development.”
In the Global Times story, Jin Canrong, a deputy dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, said the American admiral’s comments recognize China as a rising military power.
“However, some people, who sit in their offices in Washington, tend to hold a more hard-line position toward China,” Mr. Jin said.
China has focused its attention and actions almost exclusively on its naval and air power over waterways in its immediate vicinity.
Much of Beijing’s posturing has been within the context of territorial disputes with longtime U.S. ally Japan and smaller Pacific nations over patches of islands in the South and East China seas.
Beijing made global headlines in November by announcing the creation of an air defense zone in the East China Sea that requires foreign civilian and military aircraft to notify Chinese authorities of their flight plans and cargo. It triggered a weekslong Cold War-style standoff with Washington, and prompted the Pentagon to fly two B-52 bombers through the zone.