WASHINGTON -- Defense leaders will chart the progress made in ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific region and what more needs to be done during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee today.
Jedidiah P. Royal, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific affairs, will discuss U.S. force structure in the region, steps made to improve contacts and military capabilities with friends and allies and how the United States and its allies will proceed.
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In his prepared opening remarks, Royal said China is America's pacing challenge, and the nation is increasingly using the People's Liberation Army "as a tool for coercion in support of its global aims, and we have in turn seen the PLA conduct more dangerous and aggressive activities in the region."
In the last year, Chinese aircraft and ships conducted inherently risky intercepts increasing the unacceptable danger of an accident. "The PLA continues to conduct coercive military activities in the Taiwan Strait, the South and East China Seas, and beyond," he said. "With our allies and partners across the region, the United States has called out such behavior."
The United States has condemned the People's Republic of China's use of military-grade lasers against an Australian aircraft and a Philippine ship, both operating lawfully in their respective Exclusive Economic Zones. "Additionally, we have seen continued coercive PLA behavior along the Line of Actual Control with India," Royal said. "For the sake of preserving peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, we must never accept military activities intended to undermine the rules-based international order through coercion and aggression."
China is not transparent about most of its defense activities, but what is especially worrisome is that the nation is engaged in a significant and fast-paced expansion, modernization and diversification of its nuclear forces. "While the end state of the PRC's nuclear force expansion remains uncertain, the trajectory of these efforts points to a large, diverse nuclear arsenal with a high degree of survivability, reliability and effectiveness, encased in an opaque posture," Royal said. "This could provide the PRC with new options before and during a crisis or conflict to leverage nuclear weapons for coercive purposes, including military provocations against U.S. allies and partners in the region."
Other disturbing developments involve China embracing rapid technological change to accomplish military goals. "Of particular concern is [China's] interest in biotechnology and other areas that may have peaceful purposes but that also enable weapons development, including advanced biological and chemical weapons," he said.
Officials are also disturbed by China's lack of interest in developing important lines of communication that underpin a stable defense relationship.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has said on many occasions that even at the height of the Cold War, U.S. and Soviet military leaders had lines of communication.
"The Department of Defense believes strongly in maintaining open lines of communication between Washington and Beijing to ensure competition does not veer into conflict," Royal said. "Immediately after downing the PRC high-altitude balloon in February, the department submitted a request for a call between Secretary Austin and the PRC Minister of National Defense because we wanted to ensure there was no misunderstanding or miscalculation in Beijing about our actions. Unfortunately, the PRC declined our request."
He noted this was not the first time Chinese officials refused to communicate with the secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or other department officials.
The United States is strengthening force posture in the region and sharpening American military capabilities alongside allies and friends. "We're seeing states across the region invest in their own capabilities, their connections with regional partners and their relationships with the U.S.," said a senior defense official speaking on background. "That's because they share our vision about what our free and open Indo-Pacific looks like."
The United States will maintain its emphasis on the Indo-Pacific. Royal said deterrence in the region is strong and real for two reasons: "First, the U.S. military remains the most capable and credible fighting force in the world," he said. "The major investments in the President's Budget Request will help keep it that way.
"Second, the United States is not the only Indo-Pacific power seeking to uphold peace and stability in the region by investing in greater capability and connection," he continued. "The alliance and partner network both in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond is our greatest asymmetric advantage, and it is gaining even greater strength."
He noted that Japan has decided to increase substantially its defense budget over the next five years and to introduce new capabilities, including counterstrike.
The United States and South Korea are taking clear, meaningful steps to modernize and strengthen that treaty alliance, including by expanding the scope and scale of our combined exercises and deploying some of our most capable platforms to the Korean Peninsula at a faster tempo.
The United States and the Philippines are working together to modernize the Philippine military. "We are working together to accelerate allied capabilities in the air and maritime domain," he said.
"With India, we are making major investments in our defense ties to uphold the regional balance of power," Royal said.
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The Australia, United Kingdom and United States security pact may be the best example of this collaboration, Royal said.
"Finally, we continue to fulfill our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act," he said. "The [act] has formed the bedrock of peace, stability and deterrence in the Taiwan Strait over the last four decades, and it is sustained by strong bipartisan support for providing Taiwan with self-defense capabilities, as well as for maintaining the U.S. capacity to resist any use of force that jeopardizes the security of the people on Taiwan."