By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, May 14, 2015 – While China’s land reclamation and maritime disputes in the South China Sea are troubling, they are nothing new, the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs told a Senate panel yesterday.
David B. Shear told Senate Foreign Relations Committee members that China’s acts of aggression are “decades old,” and he outlined ongoing Defense Department actions to safeguard American interests in the South China Sea.
Although several nations and territories in the Asia-Pacific region also have set up outposts, “China’s 2,000-acre reclamation since 2014 dwarfs the other claimants,” and suggests new and troubling changes in the regional status quo, Shear said.
China’s actions could pose a range of military implications, he said, such as developing long-range radars and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to berthing deeper-draft ships and developing a diversion airfield for carrier-based aircraft.
Protecting U.S. Interests
The United States has made its views on China’s activities “crystal clear” on multiple occasions at the senior–most levels, Shear told panel members.
U.S. interests, he added, include “peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, respect for international law, and the maintenance of peace and stability.”
Shear said DoD is ensuring that U.S. interests in the South China Sea are adequately protected by assessing the military implications of land reclamation and “taking effective and appropriate action” using four approaches:
First is modernizing important alliances with Japan, the Philippines and Australia, he said. Shear noted the new defense cooperation guidelines between the U.S. and Japan, in addition to enhanced cooperation with the Philippines and the force posture agreement with Australia that each allow rotational U.S. forces to be stationed on allied ground.
Greater Regional Visibility
Second, DoD is adopting a “more geographically distributed, operationally resilient and politically sustainable defense posture throughout the region,” Shear said.
Rotational deployments of littoral combat ships to Singapore is the Navy’s first sustained presence in Southeast Asia since the U.S. Navy Base at Subic Bay closed in the early 1990s, he pointed out.
DoD also has enhanced in-theater assets for greater visibility in the region by conducting port calls in the South China Sea, flying regular regional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, performing exercises with allies and the ongoing U.S. ship presence in the region.
Third, DoD helps regional governments improve their maritime security capacities and domain awareness, such as helping with the Philippines’ national coastal watch system, he said.
Last, DoD is trying to “reduce the risk of miscalculation and unintentional conflict with China through healthy but prudent military-to-military engagement,” Shear said.
While the assistant secretary said he shares the committee’s concerns, he added, “In addition to building our own capabilities, we’re building closer, more effective partnerships with our allies and partners in the region to promote peace and stability.”