The Pentagon is emphasizing strengthening alliances in the Indo-Pacific region and improving its readiness and response time to the region as the U.S. focuses more on China’s growing threat to its security, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.
Speaking Wednesday at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Esper pointed to China’s information warfare campaign, increasingly aggressive posture in the South China Sea and debt-tied diplomatic leverage as specific perils posed by the communist nation.
“The Indo-Pacific is the epicenter of a great power competition with China,” Esper said according to the South China Morning Post. “We’re not going to cede this region – an inch of ground, if you will – to another country, any other country that thinks their form of government, their views on human rights, their views on sovereignty, their views on freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, all those things, that somehow that’s better than what many of us share.”
The speech came as Esper was scheduled to later visit Guam and the 500-island archipelago of Palau, one of 15 remaining diplomatic allies of Taiwan. China does not recognize the democratic nation of Taiwan, considering it a renegade province.
Esper said he has created a new China strategy management group to coordinate efforts in the Pentagon, collaborating extensively with allies in the region, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
He highlighted that China’s People’s Liberation Army bid to enhance it capabilities into a world-class military would “undoubtedly embolden” them in the East China Sea and South China Sea, where other countries have overlapping claims.
“We see Southeast Asia, particularly in the South China Sea area, is where China seems to be flexing its muscles the most and conducting some of its worst behavior,” Esper he said. “Our robust network of allies and partners remains the enduring asymmetric advantage we have over near-peer rivals, namely China, that attempt to undermine and subvert the rules-based order to advance their own interests, often at the expense of others.”
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