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Newswise — China’s military buildup of both conventional and nuclear weaponry, the war in the Ukraine—and China and Russia’s “no limit” policy to their cooperation—together with the increase in missile launches from North Korea, all referenced in recent media reports, are part of what the top U.S. military commander for the fast-growing Indo-Pacific refers to as “the most dangerous environment in the region in nearly four decades.” 

June Teufel Dreyer, a political science professor in the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences and an expert on China, assessed the country’s military escalation and the increasing tension in the region that is home to a multiplicity of nations, most of them, more or less, democratic. 

The Indo-Pacific, formerly referred to as the East Asian Hemisphere or Pacific Basin is said to be the world’s newest “super-region.” How is the Indo-Pacific defined? 

The region encompasses the territory of the former United States Pacific Command (PACOM) and India (now USINDOPACOM)—an area that encompasses about half the earth’s surface—together with Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and India. 

What is the region’s critical value and what should we know about it?  

The region has experienced the most impressive economic growth in the world over the past several decades. That growth is somewhat less surprising given the fact that, with the exceptions of the already highly developed nations of Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, the other countries in the region launched their growth spurts from a low economic baseline. 

The Indo-Pacific, in contrast with alliances and regions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO), the European Union (EU), and Latin America, encompasses a vast range of different cultures and religions. 

Admiral John C. Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, recently said that the environment is the most dangerous he has seen in the region in nearly four decades, what’s happening in the region and why? 

The increased tension is chiefly because of China’s menacing behavior that includes a series of claims to contested areas, military and paramilitary pressure accompanied by cyberattacks, and a series of subversive techniques carried out by members of the Chinese diaspora. Meanwhile, the Chinese continue to flaunt international law, such as its rejection of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling against China’s claim to 80-percent of the South China Sea.

China has been militarizing its bases and menacing neighbors in the region through provocative acts. When did this strategy to escalate tension and destabilize begin and what is China’s goal? 

For years, China had abided by Deng Xiaoping’s (China’s communist leader from late 1970s until his death in 1997) advice to hide its capabilities and assume a low profile internationally—the so-called hide and bide strategy. Around 2009, partly in response to the financial crisis in the western world, partly because China’s military and economic capabilities had achieved a level where the leadership felt it could challenge the U.S.-led liberal economic order, partly in response to President Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” policy, the Chinese decided the time to hide and bide had ended. The fact that the Obama administration didn’t pursue the policy with much action gave China an excuse. 

What are the particular U.S. interests in the region and what should or can be done to safeguard them? 

The United States is a Pacific power—its own West Coast, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam—and has major financial interests in the area. It is likewise treaty bound to Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines, and it also has a strong commitment to defend Taiwan. 

The U.S. Navy is charged with defense of the sea lines of communication, which China is attempting to administer according to its own principles. Our defense capability has been allowed to deteriorate, and we are now falling behind China in many areas. Our choices are to either accept Chinese hegemony or rebuild our defense capabilities. The latter will involve cutting back on domestic programs or raising taxes. There are no easy answers, and we are not getting them from our politicians.