China’s “troubling” military buildup coincides with new efforts by Beijing to block the Navy from international waters near its coasts and field new missiles, submarines and cyberweapons, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told Congress on Tuesday.
Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that China’s intentions behind its decades-long buildup remain hidden and are undermining stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
The four-star admiral said the arms buildup is understandable because of China’s economic rise, but “the scope and pace of its modernization without clarity on China’s ultimate goals remains troubling.”
“For example, China continues to accelerate its offensive air and missile developments without corresponding public clarification about how these forces will be utilized,” he said.
Chinese officials, in meetings with their U.S. counterparts, have refused to explain the pace or goal of the arms buildup, defense officials have said.
Adm. Willard said Chinese weapons that pose concerns include a growing arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles, including anti-ship missiles and advanced radar-evading stealth combat aircraft.
Also, “China is pursuing counterspace and cyber capabilities that can be used to not only disrupt U.S. military operations, but also to threaten the space- and cyber-based information infrastructure that enables international communications and commerce,” he said.
“Absent clarification from China, its military modernization efforts hold significant implications for regional stability,” the admiral said, noting that states in Asia, along with the United States, are becoming alarmed over what he termed “new anti-access and area-denial weaponry.”
China’s government insists that the arms buildup is defensive but will not provide details on any of its most advanced weapons.
On Chinese cyber-attacks, Adm. Willard said, a “sizable percentage” of the large number of attempted computer intrusions detected daily come from China.
“We are defending our networks every day, not solely against Chinese intrusions, but against many intrusions that come from a whole host of global sources,” he said. “And I depend entirely, nearly, on cyberspace for the command and control of the broader Asia-Pacific, of our forces there.”
Chinese military statements indicate that the country would use cyberwarfare attacks against information systems and command-and-control networks in a conflict. “So there’s no doubt that there’s a need to be able to defend cyberspace,” he said.
China’s aggressiveness near its coasts also was singled out as increasing the potential for a miscalculation that could lead to confrontation.
Official Chinese statements and actions indicate growing encroachment by Beijing in “near seas” around China, posing “a direct challenge to accepted interpretations of international law and established international norms,” Adm. Willard said.
Adm. Willard was referring to China’s threats against Navy exercises in the Yellow Sea last year and earlier incidents of naval harassment against U.S. surveillance ships in the South China Sea.
China also threatened Japan after a naval confrontation between Japanese coast guard ships and a Chinese fishing vessel near the Senkaku Islands between Okinawa and Taiwan.
The Chinese maritime encroachment includes area of international waters in the Bohai Gulf, the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea, Adm. Willard said.
He said recent statements from senior Obama administration officials at regional conferences in Asia prompted China to back off somewhat from the near-seas aggressiveness.
Adm. Willard also said China’s first aircraft carrier, a refurbished Russian ship, will begin sea trials as early as this summer, a development viewed with concern by nations in Asia.
China’s military has made advancements in numbers and capabilities for its submarine forces, which Adm. Willard described as a “sizable fleet” that is prompting other states in Asia, including Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, to invest in their submarine forces.
Asked about the recent assessment of Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. that China poses the greatest threat to the United States, Adm. Willard said he disagreed. North Korea is a more “imminent threat,” while China’s military buildup is a “great challenge.”
“If I were asked what biggest challenge I face as the Pacific Command commander, I would tell you it’s the relationship between the United States and China, in order to advance that relationship to ultimately become a constructive partnership, if that’s possible,” he said.
On North Korea, Army Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of U.S. Forces Korea who appeared with Adm. Willard, told the hearing that he does not think North Korea will give up its nuclear arms - “not without a whole bunch of pressure from really everyone around the globe.”
Asked by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, about the nuclear talks, Gen. Sharp said: “To answer your question directly, no, I do not see that [North Korean leader Kim Jong-il] will give up his nuclear capability.”