HONOLULU — While much of the world is focused on the ballistic missile and nuclear threat from North Korea, the U.S. military in the Pacific region is also concentrating on another potential foe: China.
“PRC is the most pressing threat in the Pacific,” one U.S. military official in the region said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China. While North Korea is a near-term issue, “it’s a fight we could win,” the official said — but he worries about a fight with China.
Among the U.S. concerns: China’s controversial island-building, theft of technology, currency manipulation, cyberattacks, and both military and non-military aggression.
The U.S. military officials in the region warn that China’s ultimate goal is to become dominant by slowly making changes to the international order. China will use the laws it likes, ignore the ones it doesn’t and eventually other nations will have to adapt, thereby re-setting the rules in China’s favor.
The Chinese have changed the rules, for example, with their new man-made islands. In recent years China has transformed reefs, rocks and sandbars in the South China Sea into forward-based military installations, sparking a territorial dispute and diplomatic conflict. The islands are hundreds of miles from the Chinese mainland in international waters.
The Chinese have declared an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) around the islands. If the Chinese enforce the zone and the international community begins to adhere to it, the islands will become accepted as Chinese territory. “We ignore the problem too long and we can’t tackle it anymore,” said an official.
“China is on a path to win without a fight.”
One of the largest islands is Fiery Cross, complete with three expansive airfields, hangars for multiple fighter squadrons and several gun emplacements. While the Chinese military has not staged any aircraft or weapons there, the infrastructure is ready, officials said.