The Rising East: U.S. Admiral Identifies China's Capabilities and Objectives

U.S. Navy photo

On the eve of the visit to the U.S. of the leading contender to be the next president of China, a senior American admiral has laid out with refreshing candor his estimate of Chinese capabilities and intentions.

Vice President Xi Jinping, who is widely expected to become the top leader of China late this year, is due to arrive in Washington on Monday. He is slated to be the guest of Vice President Joseph Biden but is scheduled to see President Barack Obama and other political and military leaders in the capital.

Most likely by coincidence, the prospective commander of U.S. forces in Asia and the Pacific, Admiral Samuel Locklear III, delivered his written assessment of China’s goals to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. He awaits a Senate vote to confirm him in his new assignment, then is scheduled to assume his new command in March.

In contrast to the laments about a "lack of transparency" in China’s military buildup from many American politicians, diplomats, and military officers in Washington, Locklear was forceful without being provocative. He made the obligatory nod toward transparency that has marked American rhetoric recently but then said what he evidently really thinks.

“The overriding objectives of China’s leaders appear to be to ensure the continued rule of the Chinese Communist Party,” he said, echoing the private assessments of officials with access to intelligence assessments. To stay in power, Locklear said, Chinese leaders will seek to “continue China’s economic development.”

Locklear referred indirectly to the frequent protests, particularly in rural areas, that have erupted recently. Thus another objective, he said, will be to “maintain the country’s domestic political stability.”

A third objective, the admiral said, was “to defend China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Chinese leaders have frequently asserted that the self-governing island of Taiwan must be incorporated into mainland China to preserve territorial integrity. The US supports self-determination by the people of Taiwan.

Still another objective, the admiral said, was to “secure China’s influence and status.” Some “Asia hands” contend that China’s rulers are seeking to revive the Middle Kingdom of yore with enough political, economic, and military power to dominate Asia and drive the U.S. out of the Western Pacific.

Militarily, Locklear wrote, “China appears to be building the capability to fight and win short duration, high-intensity conflicts along its periphery.” He added: “Its near-term focus appears to be on preparing for potential contingencies involving Taiwan and to deter or deny effective [US] intervention in a cross-strait conflict.”

Its modernization plans,” he said, “emphasize anti-access and area denial capabilities.” That is known in Pentagon jargon as “A2AD,” meaning Chinese ballistic missiles to attack U.S. air bases and naval facilities and weapons intended to destroy U.S. ships and aircraft.

Locklear, who has been commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe, said “China is also devoting increasing attention and resources to conducting operations beyond Taiwan and China’s immediate periphery.”

“China looks to South and Southeast Asia as an area of strategic importance, which includes political objectives, access to resources, trade, and investment,” he wrote. As China deploys forces, particularly warships, to that region, the admiral wrote, “China will require “greater forward logistical capabilities to sustain operations.”

“China will encounter the same political issues the U.S. faces in maintaining our overseas access,” he noted. “This will require improving ties with states along the Indian Ocean littoral, closer cooperation with other regional navies, and will expose them to more non-traditional security challenges such as terrorism and piracy.”

“China is strengthening its nuclear deterrent and enhancing its strategic strike capabilities through the modernization of its nuclear forces,” Locklear said, adding that China “is improving other strategic capabilities, such as in space, counter-space, and computer network operations.”

Other Asian nations “are closely watching the growth of China’s military, and how its military acts,” Locklear wrote. He said “there have been worrisome incidents in disputed waters in China’s neighboring seas that have caused concern in nations such as the Philippines and Vietnam.”

Locklear said: ”Security concerns regarding Chinese military intentions have contributed to a greater focus on regional forums, such as ASEAN, [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] where issues may be addressed multilaterally.”

On an upbeat note, the admiral concluded: “Such security concerns have also led to stronger and more welcoming relations with the United States as a security partner of choice.”

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