China’s Military Seeks New Islands to Conquer


Allies in the Pacific are worried that the U.S. and Europe are no longer reliable.

James Stavridis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former military commander of NATO, and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is also an operating executive consultant at the Carlyle Group and chairs the board of counselors at McLarty Associates.

A Defense Department report warns that China’s military buildup is reaching the point where it can attempt to “impose its will on the region and beyond.” Visiting recently with senior officials from two U.S. 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 U.S. administration that has repeatedly criticized its closest partners and accused them of freeloading on defense. 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 militarize 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 U.S. 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.