Admiral Philip Davidson, Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, recently accused China of destabilizing the Pacific by threatening the sovereignty of several islands in the region. Beijing claims that the entire South China Sea belongs to it, something that is dismissed by countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia, which also claim areas of the South China Sea.
“The Communist Party of China seeks to control the flow of trade, finance, communications, politics, and the way of life in the Indo-Pacific,” Davidson said in a speech (Reuters). This is being done not only through aggressive territorial claims, but also by debt-trap diplomacy, corruption, intellectual property (IP) theft, and military intimidation. He believes that the countries in the region are now splitting up into two groups: ones that support a “Beijing-centric” order and others that want a free, open Indo-Pacific. Davidson warns that countries that side with China in expectation of economic stimulus often end up worse off.
The South China Sea is one of the most critical regions when it comes to international trade as US$3.4 trillion worth of goods pass through the area every year. Getting absolute control over the region effectively means controlling the direction of global trade. This is why Beijing is so aggressive in making territorial claims. Plus, the South China Sea is also rich in several resources that Beijing plans to extract and use for domestic consumption.
Conflicts between China and Australia are also growing as the Asian nation seeks to control the Pacific. However, the Australian government is being forced to not be too aggressive against Beijing’s bullying since China is essentially their biggest trading partner. Last year, Australian intelligence concluded that a cyberattack carried out against the parliament was done by China. However, the government chose not to publicize the issue. Davidson points out that Beijing has shown a clear willingness to hurt Australian companies whenever the state has tried to simply reassert national security and sovereignty.
The admiral also expressed dissatisfaction that the Philippines had decided to end a security pact with the U.S. that allowed American forces to train in the Asian country. “Our ability to help the Philippines and their counter-violent extremist fight in the south, our ability to train and operate within the Philippines and with Filipino armed forces would be challenged without that Visiting Forces Agreement,” Davidson said in a statement (Stripes).
The U.S. administration is reportedly considering blocking the sale of an aircraft component to China. The component is manufactured by CFM, a joint venture between General Electric and Safran. “The Commerce Department had been reviewing the joint venture’s license, but the decision on whether to continue allowing the technology to be sold to China has now been kicked up to cabinet members. The plane that would use the CFM engines is scheduled to go into passenger service in 2021,” according to The New York Times.
China has been using Western-manufactured components to further its “Made In China 2025” initiative, a program that aims to make the Asian country the leader in several industries, including aircraft manufacturing. The U.S. fears that allowing China to have access to advanced products and technologies might enable it to reverse engineer them. This could enable China to dominate specific industries at some point in the future due to its manufacturing capacity.