NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the Hawaii-based Indo-Pacific Command, said recently that all U.S. services are strengthening command and control systems to prepare for a future conflict with China.
The four-star admiral stated in remarks in Washington on Friday that the American military’s key strategic advantage remains strong: the ability to conduct global, joint force warfare using strong communications and intelligence capabilities.
“We’ve proven over many years that the United States can operate as a joint force, synchronized, integrated in all domains across vast distances,” Adm. Aquilino said.
“That’s the exact problem I have in the Pacific,” he said at a forum hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Military forces throughout the Pacific and Indian Ocean region continue to strengthen and harden command and control systems as China emerges as the most serious challenge to the region’s established order. The worldwide U.S. military command and control system includes personnel, equipment, communications, facilities and procedures used in planning, directing and controlling American military operations.
“We expect to be attacked in that domain and we have to put in place the structure and the formations that allow us to command and control no matter where we are, whether it’s inside the first island chain, outside the first island chain, all the way back to any headquarters,” Adm. Aquilino said.
The commander was referring to two island chains in the western Pacific that Beijing is seeking to dominate militarily. A key objective of China’s decadeslong military buildup is to achieve military and political control over the chains that include Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and the American territory of Guam.
The first chain stretches from Japan south through the Philippines. The second reaches further eastward in the Pacific and covers numerous Pacific islands, including Guam.
If war were to break out with China, Adm. Aquilino said he wants a clear intelligence picture of the action and command and control systems that will permit him to direct and move forces rapidly to defeat the Chinese on the sea, in the air and in space and cyberspace.
“So this view of being able to deliver a picture across a node of nodes is the approach we’re taking, and I’m confident we can do that,” he said.
The admiral said weapons needed to deter a China conflict were outlined in a congressionally-mandated study called the Pacific Deterrence Initiative Report, including a $6.1 billion program of new weapons and capabilities for the region. The initiative would strengthen regional naval, air and ground forces, improve logistics, pre-position weapons and fuel, and fund military exercises.
Air power in the region will include F-22 and F-35 warplanes that can fight in contested airspace. The jets will be based in Japan and Guam.
On the Air Force element, Adm. Aquilino said a forward-stationed, persistent, deep-penetrating strike capability “is what I’ve asked for.” For combat ground forces, Adm. Aquilino wants more equipment and better weapons that are “expeditionary” and can move rapidly in the region where and when needed.
China, the admiral argued, poses the most serious threat to the United States, and he sees Beijing’s alignment with Russia as the major threat to U.S. and allied security.
“From where I sit, the most concerning aspect of it is that the People’s Republic of China has declared a ‘no-limits’ policy in support of Russia,” he said.
In February, shortly before Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin endorsed an agreement cementing closer relations, stating that the tie between China and Russia “has no limits.”
“There are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation, strengthening of bilateral strategic cooperation is neither aimed against third countries nor affected by the changing international environment and circumstantial changes in third countries,” the agreement says.
The pact is widely viewed as an anti-U.S. tool.
For the Indo-Pacific, “if those two nations were to truly demonstrate and deliver a no-limits policy, I think what that means is that we’re currently in an extremely dangerous time and place in the history of humanity, if that were to come true,” he said.
Adm. Aquilino concluded his remarks by noting the strategic objective of the Pacific military buildup is to deter China from starting a war.
Poll sees global confidence in China’s Xi at historic low
International distrust of China and of Xi Jinping, who is both president and head of the ruling Communist Party, is at historically high levels, according to a new international survey conducted by the Pew Research Service.
“Few have confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping to do the right thing regarding world affairs,” a report on the poll states. The pollsters talked to more than 20,000 respondents in the U.S. and 18 other countries across the globe.
Negative views of both Mr. Xi and China increased in 2020 and have remained at elevated levels or increased since then.
Since coming to power in 2012, Mr. Xi has stepped up the promotion of China’s brand of communist ideology abroad, portraying the Chinese communist system as superior to Western democracy and free-market capitalism.
Additionally, the Pew poll found that China’s human rights abuses — including repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Buddhists in Tibet and democracy activists in Hong Kong — were a major factor in China’s low international standing. A total of 79% of those surveyed by Pew said China’s rights abuses were a serious problem and 47% said they were a very serious problem.
Poll respondents also cited Beijing’s current military buildup, its economic practices and its meddling in domestic politics around the world. Some 72% of those polled said China’s military power is a serious problem and 37% called the People’s Liberation Army a very serious problem. Fears of Beijing’s armed forces were especially high in regional states such as Japan (60%), Australia (57%) and South Korea (46%).
One section of the survey zeroed in on Mr. Xi’s unpopularity.
“Majorities in all countries surveyed — except Singapore and Malaysia — have little to no confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s approach to world affairs,” the survey report says. “Around four in ten or more in most places surveyed even say they have no confidence at all in Xi, including more than half of those in Australia, France and Sweden.”
In the United States and Canada, and all but two European states, about 7 in 10 adults or more have little or no confidence in Mr. Xi. In Asia, publics in Japan, Australia and South Korea, in particular, do not like Mr. Xi, the survey shows.
In addition to his role in human rights abuses, critics say Mr. Xi’s unpopularity is likely in part the result of China’s poor response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chinese leader has stated publicly he was in charge of all aspects of the country’s harsh response to the virus outbreak.
China’s government punished doctors that tried to sound the alarm early in the pandemic, and Beijing continues to block international efforts to probe the origin of the virus outbreak. Its “zero-COVID” policy has resulted in massive shutdowns of cities and manufacturing sites.
U.S. intelligence agencies believe the virus leaked from a Chinese laboratory leak or was spread from a bat virus in an animal to humans. No animal carrier, however, has so far been identified by Chinese or international virus investigators.
The Pew Research Center analysis was based on polling surveys of 20,944 adults between Feb. 14 to June 3, 2022, around the world. North American polling was conducted between March 21 to 27, 2022, among 3,581 Americans and Canadians.
— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz