China in ‘Relentless March’ for Influence in Latin America: US General

China in ‘Relentless March’ for Influence in Latin America: US General
China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers march next to the entrance to the Forbidden City (L) in Beijing on May 22, 2020. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images)
Andrew Thornebrooke

China and Russia are expanding their influence in Latin America and the Caribbean, and challenging the United States’ ability to deter conflict, according to two U.S. generals who spoke at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 24.

The Chinese Communist Party is working to erode the international order in a grand effort to replace it with a system more favorable to the Party’s interests, said Gen. Laura Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command.

“The PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] ambition to fundamentally revise the world order to serve its authoritarian goals and expand its global influence has triggered a new era of strategic competition with the United States,” she said.

Richardson said that China is expanding its footprint throughout South America as a part of that effort and is making strategic investments in the United States’ own “neighborhood” in a manner similar to the economic takeover it began throughout Africa nearly two decades ago.

“PRC activities include investments in strategic infrastructure, systematic technology and intellectual property theft, disinformation and propaganda campaigns, and malicious cyber activity, all with the goal of expanding long-term access and influence in this hemisphere,” Richardson said.

“The PRC continues its relentless march to expand its economic, diplomatic, technological, informational, and military influence in [Latin America and the Caribbean] and challenges U.S. influence in all these areas.”

Richardson said expansion through Latin America presents a unique threat insofar as civilian infrastructure built in the Americas could later be used for military purposes. New observation platforms, for example, could be used to track U.S. satellites over the region.

When asked if she believed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to be an adversary of the United States, she responded affirmatively.

“They are definitely competitors, and I do look at them as adversaries,” Richardson said.

Missile Threats

The difficulty of the regional expansion is compounded by other recent developments in Chinese missile technologies, including the rapid expansion of its nuclear arsenal and the testing of a hypersonic weapon system in July.

Meanwhile, the United States lacks the capability to defend against such technologies with any degree of reliability, according to Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

“Hypersonics and cruise missiles significantly challenge my ability to conduct my NORAD mission of providing threat warning and attack assessment,” he said during the hearing.

“What you can’t see, you can’t deter, and you can’t defend from.”

VanHerck’s remarks echoed comments made in October by Robert Wood, the U.S. ambassador for disarmament, when China’s hypersonic test was first revealed.

“We just don’t know how we can defend against that technology,” Wood said. “Neither does China, neither does Russia.”
To that end, VanHerck cautioned that the challenge presents a unique threat to the U.S., a statement also corroborated by recent testimony from Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, who warned that a future war in the Indo-Pacific would reach the U.S. homeland.

“Our commands continue to face multiple simultaneous challenges from capable, highly advanced competitors who have openly declared their intent to hold our homelands at risk in an effort to advance their own strategic interests,” VanHerck said.

“Quite bluntly, my ability to conduct the missions assigned to [my commands] has eroded and continues to erode,” he said. “Our country is under attack every day in the information space and cyber domain.”

The stark assessment is in line with other comments made by Gen. David Thompson, the U.S. Space Force’s second-in-command, who said that China and Russia were launching cyber-attacks on U.S. satellites “every single day.”

“Russia and China continue to aggressively pursue and field advanced offensive cyber and space capabilities, cruise missiles, hypersonic weapons, and delivery platforms designed to evade detection and strike targets in our homeland from multiple vectors of attack and in all domains,” VanHerck said.

“Like Russia, China has begun to develop new capabilities to hold our homeland at risk in multiple domains in an attempt to complicate our decision making and to disrupt, delay, and degrade force flow in crisis and destroy our will in conflict.”

Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.
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