The United States must strengthen its network of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific to mount an effective response to China’s drive to dominate the region through military and economic coercion, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper said in a recent column published in the Wall Street Journal.
China’s People Liberation Army boasted it would complete its ambitious program to modernize itself by 2035 and become a “world class force” by 2049 by acquiring an arsenal of conventional missiles along with advanced cyber, space and electronic warfare capabilities, Mr. Esper said.
“We have entered a new era of global competition between the free and open international order and an authoritarian system fostered by Beijing,” he wrote.
The U.S. should prepare for China’s military modernization in much the same way it addressed Soviet armed forces during the Cold War. China wants to “reshape the international order” in a way that would undermine the accepted rules of behavior while normalizing authoritarianism — with an ultimate goal of impeding the sovereignty of other countries, Mr. Esper said.
The U.S. has an opportunity to strengthen bonds with other nations in the region while China continues what Mr. Esper called “aggressive behavior in the region,” through actions such as sinking a Vietnamese fishing vessel and asserting unlawful maritime claims, he said.
The U.S. provided more than $390 million in assistance to bolster the maritime capabilities of allies in the region through the Maritime Security Initiative.
“Actions such as these reduce these nations’ vulnerability to Chinese coercion and help us expand joint training, exercises, operations and planning efforts,” Mr. Esper wrote.
Mr. Esper called the PLA “a loyal tool of the Communist Party” compared to a U.S., which stands for a free and open global system where nations can prosper because of shared values.
“I urge all countries to examine — and consider curtailing — their relationship with the PLA to make sure they are not helping advance the Communist Party’s malign agenda towards our collective detriment,” he wrote.