Top American senators and commanders on Tuesday told a Senate panel that China poses the most significant, long-term strategic threat to the United States.
Testifying before the Senate's Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing, US Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm Philips Davidson said that China represented the greatest “long-term strategic threat to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific and to the United States”.
Davidson further said that Beijing was working to expand its form of Communist-Socialist ideology through fear and economic pressure in order to bend, break, and replace the existing rules-based international order.
“In its place, Beijing seeks to create a new international order led by China and with Chinese characteristics -- an outcome that displaces the stability and peace of the Indo-Pacific that has endured for over 70 years,” he told the Senators.
In remarks that they made over Davidson's deposition, the Senators too appeared to be on the same page and asked the US Government to take a strong stand on these issues.
“China presents the most significant, long-term strategic threat that this country has faced in many, many years. China's Belt and Road Initiative has left several countries, notably Sri Lanka and Malaysia, severely indebted to China,” said Senator Jack Reed, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Beijing, he alleged, often targets corrupt local governments that personally profit from inflated loans that leave their state treasuries bankrupt and beholden to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration.
“It is an economic initiative with significant national security implications for the United States. Countering Chinese aggression globally requires to rely on our partners and allies to a greater degree in the decades to come,” he said.
Davidson told the Senators that the US is working to help ASEAN in this discussion about code of conduct negotiations with China.
“China has essentially delivered a draft that dictates to those ASEAN nations when and where and who they would sail with in the South China Sea," he said.
"Helping them protect the international freedom of the seas and airspace that have been long established in maritime law that the United States and others have fought for over the centuries is quite important,” he added.
Senator Tim Kaine said China may seem friendly up front, they may have assets and resources to offer up front, but the terms are overly debt-burdening and nations like Sri Lanka and others have started to appear strained.
“Malaysia has canceled projects and basically has criticised China's way of dealing with them as sort of a new form of colonialism,” he said.
Admiral Davidson said China is challenging and threatening the rules-based international order.
“It's not a regional thing for China. It's a global approach. Anywhere that they can make inroads on that international order, they will take it. They have been moving quite rapidly,” he said.
China maneuvers in the information space in a way that undermines everything US does, factually, informationally, everywhere, he told the Senators.
“When we all used to read newspapers every Sunday, used to get up and used to have the Parade magazine as a Sunday insert. Throughout the region there is a China daily insert, which is Chinese propaganda appearing in newspapers over more than half the population of the globe. It's quite pernicious,” he said.
Senator Dan Sullivan noted that standing next to the then President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden in 2015, Xi Jinping said China does not intend to pursue militarisation of the South China Sea.
That was a quote from the president of China next to the president of the United States, he said.
“Just a few months ago in January, China's major state-run newspaper, The People's Daily stated that as China's military size and quality improves so does its control of the South China Sea. China is able to send more naval vessels as a response and can take steps like militarizing the island,” he said.
Xi Jinping didn't keep his words when he made that statement in the Rose Garden next to President Obama.
“In the most liberal interpretation of militarizing those islands, China in April 2018 populated those islands with anti-ship cruise missiles, with surface to air missiles and electronic jammers,” he said.
“Now they have the weapons, they've got sufficient military cadre and they've stepped up their operations both in the maritime and with bomber sorties and fighter sorties in a way that makes it clear that those islands are to support them militarily,” he added.
(With PTI inputs)