The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is engaged in a whole-of-society effort to undermine the rules-based international order and to promote its own brand of authoritarianism, according to U.S. military and political leaders.
“The People’s Republic of China is the most consequential strategic competitor that the United States has faced,” said Admiral John Aquilino, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
“They are executing a dedicated campaign that utilizes all forms of national power in an attempt to uproot the rules-based international order to the benefit of themselves and at the expense of all others.”
Aquilino delivered the testimony to the House Armed Services Committee during a March 9 hearing on national security challenges in the Indo-Pacific.
Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) affirmed Aquilino’s sentiments and said that the CCP was the greatest threat to the United States’ continued global leadership.
He said that American leadership was working to secure global peace, but that CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping appeared determined to seek conflict.
“China is without question the country most capable of competing with the U.S. in terms of their economic strength, in terms of their growing military strength, [and] in terms of their global reach,” Smith said.
“We all want a world where China and the U.S. peacefully coexist and that is what we are working towards,” Smith said. “But over the course of the last decade at least, it has become clear that President Xi and China intend something more combative than that.”
Smith said that the United States would need to do a better job of convincing the nations of the world that following CCP authoritarianism would not end in their favor. To this end, he said that the United States would work to balance peace in east Asia through cooperation with regional partners.
The hearing follows the release of the annual Threat Assessment released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which found China to be the number one threat to the United States in 2022.
Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told the committee that the United States would remain focused on the Indo-Pacific region as its strategic priority, settling uncertainty over whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would draw the U.S. focus to Europe.
“The Indo-Pacific is the Department’s priority theater,” Ratner said.
“We are committed to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region, where all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, and can pursue economic opportunity, resolve disputes without coercion, and exercise the freedoms of navigation and overflight consistent with an open and stable international order.”
Ratner condemned the CCP’s “support for Russian aggression,” and said that the United States’ competition with China throughout the century would define international politics and shape the global order.
“Strategic competition with the PRC [People’s Republic of China] will be a defining feature of the 21st century and our collective efforts over the next decade will determine whether Beijing succeeds in undermining the rules and norms that have benefited the Indo-Pacific region and the world for decades,” Ratner said.
To curb the malign influence of the CCP throughout the Indo-Pacific, Ratner said that it was necessary to strengthen regional networks.
He called the United States’ network of alliances and partnership one of its “greatest strengths,” and said that its defense strategy would continue to focus on developing relationship will allies and partners throughout Asia to increase prosperity and defend against authoritarianism.
“Our approach aims to build a broader security architecture in the Indo-Pacific region that can sustain a free and open order and deter aggression,” Ratner said.
“We are focused on strengthening our military position over the long-term through deepening cooperation with our allies and partners in terms of planning, operations, and greater collaboration on capability development.”
To that end, Ratner said that the United States was strengthening its capabilities and improving interoperability with regional allies and partners including Japan, Australia, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Timor-Leste.
“The United States’ ability to pursue common security and economic goals with like-minded nations is a cornerstone of our success,” Ratner said.
Ratner highlighted several examples of CCP aggression throughout the Indo-Pacific, including the use of Chinese maritime militia to encroach upon the sea borders of its neighbors, the use of its army to push the effective northern border of India inward, and the ongoing campaign of intimidation by its air forces against Taiwan.
To that end, Ratner said that a broad and bipartisan consensus had been reached that the United States ought to commit its focus to the Indo-Pacific and the continued competition with the CCP.
“[A] powerful bipartisan consensus has emerged around the China challenge and the need for the United States to refocus its time, energy, and resources on the Indo-Pacific region,” Ratner said.
“The reservoir of support for this approach is broad and deep, and we should continue working together to preserve this bipartisanship that is central to our ability to compete effectively in the region.”