China’s ruling Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army are subverting the rules-based international order and increasing global efforts to expand power, the U.S. admiral in charge of Pacific forces told a House hearing Tuesday.
Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, discussed China’s strategic and military goals for rapidly becoming a global superpower in detailed written testimony.
“The PRC seeks to become a global military power and acquire the ability to seize Taiwan, while developing conventional weapons that can reach the U.S. homeland,” Adm. Aquilino said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China. The comments were contained in a 33-page prepared statement before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
The admiral appeared before a closed hearing of the subcommittee. His written testimony, however, was posted on the subcommittee website. The admiral’s statement constitutes the Pentagon’s latest assessment of its chief rival’s current capabilities, as President Biden prepares for a trip to Asia this week to meet with U.S. allies on the security landscape in East Asia.
“The PRC also seeks to establish a network of overseas military installations that would extend its reach, allowing support for an increasingly global People’s Liberation Army (PLA) capable of power projection far beyond the Indo-Pacific.”
The Chinese are using a combination of economic and military influence that can be seen in “coercive economic actions the PRC has taken against U.S. allies and like-minded partners,” he said.
He said one example was the “One Belt, One Road” program of overseas infrastructure development and financing that critics say is a means to expand Chinese influence and access around the world. The Chinese military-civil “fusion” program of acquiring technology and expertise has made academic research cooperation with Beijing a potential national security danger, the admiral said.
“The PRC is in execution of a dedicated campaign utilizing all forms of national power to uproot the rules-based international order in ways that benefit themselves at the expense of all others,” Adm. Aquilino said in prepared testimony. “Their will and their resources to contest long standing international norms are evident across every regional and functional domain.”
Adm. Aquilino outlined the large-scale Chinese military build-up of new warships, aircraft, space and cyber weapons, a build-up the U.S. and its allies have watched nervously. President Xi Jinping has directed that most elements of the military upgrade be completed by 2027 in what the admiral called the most extensive military buildup by any nation since World War II.
The PLA now has around 350 ships and submarines with 130 surface warships making it the largest navy in the world, and is expected to grow to 420 battle-force ships by 2025, the U.S. admiral said.
The PLA also now boasts the largest air force in the region with more than half its warplanes advanced, “fourth-generation” aircraft or better. Production is beginning now for a new fifth-generation J-20 fighter.
Nuclear capable H-6N bombers are being added along with new ground-based and mobile long-range missiles.
“In addition to an extensive arsenal of advanced ballistic missiles, the PLA rocket force is pursuing land-attack, supersonic cruise missiles and other advanced weapons,” Adm. Aquilino said. “The PLA’s new generation of mobile missiles uses multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs) and highly capable hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV) designed to evade U.S. missile defenses.”
Space weapons in the PLA arsenal include directed-energy weapons, electronic jammers, a ground-launched kinetic kill missile and orbiting strike capabilities.
Space arms are intended to deny the U.S. military and those of allies access to space during a crisis or conflict.
“PLA development of cyber capabilities are in direct support of intelligence collection against the United States, advanced PLA modernization goals, and intellectual property theft,” Adm. Aquilino said. “From denial-of-service attacks to physical disruptions of critical infrastructure, the PRC desires to shape decisionmaking and disrupt military operations at the initial stages and throughout conflict.”
China has made the takeover of self-ruled Taiwan a high priority and Adm. Aquilino said China has “drastically increased” the size and sophistication of its military training for an assault on the island.
“Beijing has intensified pressure on Taiwan, using diplomatic, informational, military and economic tools to isolate Taiwan from the international community in an attempt to force submission and weaken resistance,” he told lawmakers in his prepared testimony.
In the South China Sea, China has made “illegal maritime claims” as part of efforts to take over the waterway, Adm. Aquilino said. Disputed islands are now armed with anti-ship missiles, anti-aircraft weapons and jamming gear, he revealed.
To counter Chinese aggression and deter a future conflict, Adm. Aquilino outlined the Indo-Pacific Command’s strategy he called “seize the initiative.”
“This approach requires the joint force to think, act, and operate differently by synchronizing our operations, realigning our posture, and advancing our warfighting capabilities,” he said.
The strategy will require a buildup of military power in the Pacific and also joint operations with allies in the region.
“‘Seize the initiative’ is the first step in building enduring advantages that ensure U.S. forces are postured in the right place, with the right capabilities to deter our security challengers in near-, mid-, and long-term competition,” Adm. Aquilino said.
The admiral’s written testimony did not specify the exact types of weapons and forces that are needed to support the strategy.