A DEFENCE Department report warns that China’s military build-up is reaching the point where it can attempt to “impose its will on the region and beyond”.
Visiting recently with senior officials from two US allies in the region, Japan and Singapore, gave me a visceral feeling of how things look on the ground (and at sea).
“We are deeply concerned about the US long-term commitment in the region, starting with troops in South Korea — especially in the face of China and their determined military expansion,” a senior Japanese official told me.
The constant refrain was simple: The West is becoming a less reliable partner.
These allies are dismayed by a US administration that has repeatedly criticised its closest partners and accused them of freeloading on defence. They are also worried about weakness
and distraction of a Europe facing Brexit. This is compounded as they watch China increase pressure on Taiwan to accept a “one nation, two systems” deal a la Hong Kong and militarise the South China Sea by constructing artificial islands.
Japan, in particular, faces a host of challenges from Beijing. These begin with a long and bitter history of conflict, principally stemming from the Second World War but also dating back to the Sino-Japanese War more than a century ago.
Other areas of contention include China’s unfounded territorial claims including the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea; support for North Korea’s Kim Jung-un, who has launched ballistic missiles over the Japanese islands; alleged hacks into Tokyo’s intelligence and military command systems; and the intellectual property theft that has also frustrated the US so deeply.
Singapore, given its geographic position as the gateway to the Indian Ocean, is a key stepping stone in China’s military expansion and its massive One Belt-One Road development project.
There is also a less-noticed but extremely worrisome aspect to China’s increasing boldness: It seems to be building its naval capability to dominate farther into the Pacific — as far as what Western analysts call the “second island chain”.