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US worried by Chinese military build-up in Asia-Pacific, says top general

The US is concerned by the Chinese military’s growing assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific, where America must maintain a sustained presence to demonstrate its commitment to the region, Gen Paul Selva has said.

world Updated: Jul 19, 2017 18:17 IST
China's sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, arrives in Hong Kong waters on July 7, 2017. China's national defence ministry had said the Liaoning was part of a flotilla on a
China's sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, arrives in Hong Kong waters on July 7, 2017. China's national defence ministry had said the Liaoning was part of a flotilla on a "routine training mission". (AFP)

China is exploiting its economic leverage to advance its regional political objectives, a top US military commander has said while expressing concern over the PLA’s growing assertiveness in the strategic Asia-Pacific region.

The modernisation of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) emphasises the development of capabilities with the potential to degrade core US military-technological advantages, Gen Paul Selva of the US Air Force said on Tuesday.

“The Chinese have shown their willingness to exploit their economic leverage as a way to advance their regional political objectives,” he said in a written response to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee considering his nomination for reconfirmation as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“As China’s military modernisation continues, the US and its allies and partners will continue to be challenged to balance China’s influence,” Selva, America’s second-highest ranking military officer, said.

Noting that a long-term, sustained presence is critical to demonstrating that America is committed to the Asia-Pacific region, Selva said the US will continue to develop a security network through multilateral partnerships.

“We will continue to develop capabilities to counter China’s improving military capabilities,” he said.

According to Selva, China’s leaders remain focused on developing the capabilities to increase its regional influence and to counter any third party intervention – including by the US – during a crisis or conflict.

“China is also seeking resources and economic opportunities outside of the region to support continued domestic economic growth and prosperity. China’s growing military is being designed and postured to be able to protect its interests both in the Asia-Pacific region and abroad,” he said.

Selva’s comments came as a key Senate committee called for continued US engagement in the Asia-Pacific to maintain its security and stability in face of increased Chinese aggressiveness and military build-up in the area.

“Continued engagement by the US in the Asia-Pacific region is critical to maintaining security and stability in the region,” the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee said on Tuesday.

The committee noted in its report that certain activities by China have recently called into question its commitment to the rule of law, and furthermore are continuing to destabilise the security of the region.

“Such actions directly threaten the national security interests of the US,” it said, noting that a UN arbitral tribunal declared in July 2016 that China has no legal basis to claim rights to the resources within its nine-dash line, invalidating the assertions of the Chinese government.

The tribunal also went on to outline a number of actions that China had recently taken that are unlawful and created a serious risk of collision. These actions are alarming to the committee, it said, adding that these concerns are compounded by the fact that the US has taken only limited actions or operations in the last several months to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

“As the US has the unique capabilities to carry out such activities, the committee is concerned that the absence of such sends a signal to the Chinese government that their actions will go uncontested,” the report said.

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital waterway, despite counter-claims from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. The PLA has built several artificial islands in the area and militarised some of them.