WASHINGTON — President Obama’s “rebalancing” toward Asia is already severely off-kilter as China barrels toward military superiority, bullies its way to territorial control and lengthens its manipulative reach far beyond its continent.
As administration negotiators were busy trying to rush a deal with Iran on Saturday, China announced that it had established an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone over the disputed Senkaku Islands also claimed by Japan. Under the new rules, all aircraft must get clearance from Chinese authorities or face a military reaction from PRC authorities guarding the zone.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he was “deeply concerned” by the announcement, viewing it as “a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region.”
“This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations,” Hagel said. “This announcement by the People’s Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.”
Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement echoed Hagel’s, adding “escalatory action will only increase tensions in the region and create risks of an incident.”
“We don’t support efforts by any State to apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter its national airspace. The United States does not apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter U.S. national airspace,” Kerry said. “We urge China not to implement its threat to take action against aircraft that do not identify themselves or obey orders from Beijing.”
Today aboard Air Force One White House spokesman Josh Earnest called China’s move “unnecessarily inflammatory.”
“There are regional disputes in that part of the world, and those are disputes that should be resolved diplomatically,” Earnest said. “And there should be, in this case, plenty of overlapping common ground to reach a situation — or reach a resolution that doesn’t involve inflammatory, escalating rhetoric or policy pronouncements by any side. And that’s how we hope that this situation will be resolved.”
But Congress learned in a recent report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission that the People’s Republic is increasingly poised to obtain what it wants in a less-than-diplomatic fashion.
“While we continue to warn about our military’s readiness and the dangerous effects of budget cuts and sequestration, China’s military spending continues to rise and its new leadership seeks to increase combat readiness,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) at a hearing last week to review the report. “Its current pace of military modernization shows that Beijing is developing the ability to project power and influence further abroad.”
Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), though, said “there is no reason that we should have China as an enemy.”
“I think we have an increasing number of common interests in terms of peace and stability, certainly in Asia, but globally. China has become more and more involved economically throughout the world,” Smith said. “And I think the most important thing is they actually step up and start assuming that role.”
The chairman for this year’s report, Bill Reinsch, noted that China is not exactly acting like a partner for peace with its actions in the East and South China Seas — and this even before Saturday’s airspace decree.
“It is becoming clearer that China does not intend to resolve its maritime disputes through multilateral negotiations or the application of international laws and adjudicative processes, but prefers to use its growing power in support of coercive tactics to pressure its neighbors to concede China’s claims,” Reinsch said.
“Meanwhile, China continued to develop and field advanced military platforms and weapons systems. China’s comprehensive military modernization is altering the balance of power in Asia, challenging decades of U.S. military preeminence in the region,” he said.
The committee found that China is more prepared than ever to strike at Taiwan and that Obama administration officials need to be urged to visit Taiwan to lend their support — with consistent congressional oversight.
They found that China’s rapid, thorough modernization of its military means the People’s Republic has 65 submarines that can employ intercontinental ballistic missiles, torpedoes, mines or anti-ship cruise missiles, and has made even more dangerous strides in its cyberespionage campaign that threatens U.S. industry, infrastructure and military operations. In March the PRC hiked its defense budget by more than 10 percent.
The People’s Liberation Army is “rapidly expanding and diversifying its ability to strike U.S. bases, ships, and aircraft throughout the Asia Pacific region including those that it previously could not reach, such as U.S. military facilities on Guam.”