WASHINGTON — China’s increasingly “pretty malign behavior” in the southwest Pacific may be angering its neighbors but it’s also providing an opportunity for the US to strengthen its hand in the region, a senior Marine officer said today.
“… [W]hat strengthens a partnership is when someone has a problem and they know that they can go to the United States, and they can say, ‘Thank you for helping us,’ it just strengthens those partnerships,” Brig. Gen. Stephen Lightfoot said today at an event hosted by the Center for Naval Analyses. “And we’re seeing that in the Philippines right now where China is doing some pretty malign behavior, right?
“Like when you’re ramming ships, when you’re using water cannons, when you’re using underwater sonar, lasers blinding people — not helpful, not helpful at all,” said Lightfoot, who serves as director of the Marines’ Capabilities Development Directorate. “They’re creating a problem for themselves, and we need to be able to take advantage of that by showing that we are the partner of choice.”
Lightfoot was referencing a myriad of incidents that have taken place over the past several weeks in and around the disputed South China Sea in which China was accused of harassing vessels and personnel belonging to the Philippines and, in the case of the underwater sonar, Australia. A diver was injured in that incident last month, the Australian government said.
On Monday, the Philippines said a Chinese ships blasted water cannons at Philippine vessels and rammed one carrying Philippine Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Romeo Brawner — though Brawner reportedly said he did not believe the Chinese knew he was there.
Still, the Philippine government called it a “serious escalation on the part of agents of the People’s Republic of China,” according to Reuters. (The Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed a Philippine ship rammed a Chinese coast guard vessel and that the ships had “gravely violated China’s sovereignty.”)
Today US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke on the phone with Philippine Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro Jr. about the “coercive and unlawful actions” by China over the weekend.
“Secretary Austin expressed U.S. support for the Philippines in defending its sovereign rights in accordance with international law, emphasizing that the United States’ commitment to the Philippines remains ironclad,” a Pentagon readout said.
John Blaxland, a professor at the Australian National University based in Washington, DC, told Breaking Defense last week that China’s actions up to that time “point to a ratcheting up of pressure in support of spurious claims over the Nine-Dash Line. This comes just as countries like the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and others push back harder.”
In October the US accused the Chinese military of a litany of what it called unsafe or unprofessional behaviors in interactions with American forces — actions that a US Navy admiral said were likely a result of directions from the top.
Chinese forces “are increasingly provocative and it’s deeply concerning,” Adm. Samuel Paparo, head of US Pacific Fleet, said in November. “At times, they’ve hazarded themselves, and they’ve hazarded the people that are in the vessels and aircraft they’ve interacted with.” Paparo said then the PRC is “pressing unlawful claims, with no basis in international law or custom. And they’re operating under the logic of military power.”
The continued incidents come despite what appeared to be warming relations between the US and China, after US President Joe Biden hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at the White House in mid-November.
Source : BreakingDefense