Baltimore Sun

China ‘noticeably more aggressive,’ Milley warns

Top US general aims to reinforce nation’s ties in Indo-Pacific

- By Lolita C. Baldor

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Chinese military has become significan­tly more aggressive and dangerous over the past five years, the top U.S. military officer said during a trip to the Indo-Pacific that included a stop Sunday in Indonesia.

U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the number of intercepts by Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region with U.S. and other partner forces has increased significan­tly over that time, and the number of unsafe interactio­ns has risen by similar proportion­s.

“The message is the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, have become significan­tly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region,” said Milley, who recently asked his staff to compile details about interactio­ns between China and the U.S. and others in the region.

His comments came as the U.S. redoubles efforts to strengthen its relationsh­ips with Pacific nations as a counterbal­ance to China, which is trying to expand its presence and influence in the region.

The Biden administra­tion considers China its “pacing threat” and America’s primary long-term security challenge.

Milley’s trip to the region is sharply focused on the China threat. He will attend a meeting of Indo-Pacific chiefs of defense this week in Australia, where key topics will be China’s escalating military growth and the need to maintain a free, open and peaceful Pacific.

U.S. military officials have also raised alarms about the possibilit­y that China could invade Taiwan, the democratic, self-ruled island that Beijing views as a breakaway province.

U.S. military officials have said Beijing wants to be ready to make a move on the island by 2027. The U.S. remains Taiwan’s chief ally and supplier of defense weapons. U.S. law requires the government to treat all threats to the island as matters of “grave concern,” but remains ambiguous on whether the U.S. military would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China.

China’s joint chiefs of staff chairman, Gen. Li Zuocheng, told Milley in a call this month that Beijing had “no room for compromise” on issues such as Taiwan. He said he told Milley that the U.S. must “cease U.S.-Taiwan military collusion and avoid impacting China-U.S. ties and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

The U.S. and others are also worried that a recent security agreement that Beijing signed in April with the Solomon Islands could lead to the establishm­ent of a Chinese naval base in the South Pacific. The U.S. and Australia have told the Solomon Islands that hosting a Chinese military base would not be tolerated.

“This is an area in which China is trying to do outreach for their own purposes. And again, this is concerning because China is not doing it just for benign reasons,” Milley told reporters. “They’re trying to expand their influence throughout the region. And that has potential consequenc­es that are not necessaril­y favorable to our allies and partners in the region.”

The Biden administra­tion has been taking steps to expand its military and security relationsh­ip with Indo-Pacific nations as part of a campaign to build a stronger network of alliances

in China’s backyard and counter China’s growing influence.

Milley declined to provide specific numbers of unsafe Chinese interactio­ns with U.S. and allied aircraft and ships. But Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a speech last month in Singapore, referred to an “alarming increase” in the number of unsafe intercepts by People’s Liberation Army aircraft and vessels.

Austin pointed to a February incident where a PLA navy ship directed a laser at an Australian P-8 maritime

patrol aircraft. Also, U.S. ships are routinely dogged by Chinese aircraft and vessels during transits, particular­ly around man-made islands claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea.

Milley said there have been Chinese intercepts with Australia, Canada, Japan, Canada, the Philippine­s and Vietnam.

Milley, who met on Sunday with Gen. Andika Perkasa, chief of the Indonesian National Defence Forces, said Pacific nations like Indonesia want the

U.S. military involved and engaged in the region.

“We want to work with them to develop interopera­bility and modernize our militaries collective­ly,” Milley said, in order to ensure they can “meet whatever challenge that China poses.”

He said Indonesia is strategica­lly critical to the region, and has long been a key U.S. partner.

China has condemned U.S. efforts to expand its outreach in the region, accusing America of trying to build an “Asian NATO.”

 ?? LOLITA C. BALDOR/AP ?? Gen. Mark Milley, center right, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, reviews Indonesian troops during a welcome ceremony Sunday in Jakarta, Indonesia.
LOLITA C. BALDOR/AP Gen. Mark Milley, center right, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, reviews Indonesian troops during a welcome ceremony Sunday in Jakarta, Indonesia.

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