By Barbara Starr, CNN correspondent at the Pentagon
The top US general has ordered a comprehensive review of US military interactions with Chinese forces over the past five years amid growing concerns over Beijing’s assertive behavior in the Indo-Pacific region, three officials say. defense.
In launching the review, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley seeks to gain a detailed understanding of all interactions between the two militaries, especially those that might be deemed “unsafe” or “unprofessional”. due to the operation of Chinese aircraft or ships. close to US military assets. Officials told CNN the goal was to get a solid look at any changes in Chinese military activity patterns.
“China has been on the rise, economically and militarily, for more than a decade. They got bolder in the Pacific,” Milley said in a written statement to CNN. “Keeping lines of communication open and managing competition will reduce strategic risk. The US military is focused on modernization and readiness. Our network of partners and allies is a source of strength.
The interactions between the two armies are so sensitive that incidents are often not made public. For example, in June, a US C-130 transport plane operated by US Special Forces had some sort of encounter with a Chinese aircraft, but the Pentagon has not publicly acknowledged the incident.
Milley requested an initial internal staff review ahead of his July 7 video conference call with his Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng. “Gen. Milley discussed the need to handle competition responsibly and keep lines of communication open. General Milley stressed the importance for the People’s Liberation Army to engage in substantive dialogue on improving crisis communications and reducing strategic risk,” according to a statement released by Milley’s office shortly. after the call.
The review is expected to continue to reflect Milley’s intense focus on ensuring the United States has a full understanding of China’s military capabilities and intentions.
Countering China is a key US strategic priority and last month US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called on Beijing for a series of coercive, aggressive and dangerous actions that threaten stability around Asia and promised that the United States would stand with its partners to resist any pressure.
“Indo-Pacific countries should not face political intimidation, economic coercion or harassment from maritime militias,” Austin said in a keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the premier advocacy conference from Asia.
“The PRC’s actions threaten to undermine security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific,” said Austin, using the acronym to refer to the country by its official name, the People’s Republic of China.
He listed a series of areas in which he said China was beefing up its neighbors, including sending large numbers of warplanes into the skies near Taiwan, dangerously intercepting US allied patrol planes and operations illegal fishing grounds which “loot supplies from the region”.
In March, Admiral Philip Davidson, then head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, described China as “the greatest long-term strategic security threat of the 21st century”.
“I fear they are accelerating their ambitions … to supplant the United States and our leadership role in the rules-based international order, which they have long said they want to do by 2050. I I worry that they’re bringing that target closer,” Davidson said during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
China is adamant: its military is defensive.
“China’s national defense development is aimed at meeting its legitimate security needs and contributing to the growth of global peaceful forces,” said the country’s 2019 defense white paper. “China will never threaten any another country nor seek any sphere of influence.”
The United States, for its part, appears to be stepping up its operations in the South China Sea. On Saturday, a US Navy warship, the USS Benfold, challenged Chinese claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea, the US 7th Fleet said in a statement – the second operation in just days.
The missile destroyer sailed near the Spratly Islands – known as the Nansha Islands in China – in the southeast South China Sea as part of a so-called ‘freedom of navigation operation’ , the 7th Fleet statement read.
The US Navy’s operation in the island chain where China has built military fortifications on man-made islands has challenged “restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Vietnam and Taiwan”, says the press release.
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CNN’s Brad Lendon and Oren Liebermann contributed reporting.