A top official at the Pentagon recently warned that it is “only a matter of time” before a “major incident or accident” occurs in the Indo-Pacific region. Speaking at an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary for Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, Ely Ratner, said that Beijing has
“escalated tensions” with neighboring countries in the region “at a pace unseen before” with “aggressive and irresponsible” behavior.
Ratner discussed the “growing” threat China poses to the security of partners and allies of the U.S. and the safety of the United States.
“We see Beijing combining its growing military power with greater willingness to take risks,” said Ratner. He added that in recent months the Pentagon has “witnessed a sharp increase in unsafe and unprofessional behavior” by the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party — the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — and said the activity is implicating allied forces and U.S. forces who are operating in the region.
“Over the last five years, the number of unsafe play intercepts, including U.S. allies and partners operating lawfully in international airspace in the South China Sea, has increased dramatically, with dozens of dangerous events in the first half of this year alone,” said Ratner.
Additionally, Ratner warned that China’s “aggressive and irresponsible behavior” now represents “one of the most significant threats to peace and stability” in the South China Sea and the entire region.
“If the PLA continues this pattern of behavior, it is only a matter of time before there is a major incident or accident in the region,” warned Ratner. He also added that the People’s Republic of China has “escalated tensions with its neighbors at a pace unseen before.”
Official: ‘We do not seek confrontation or conflict’
“We do not seek confrontation or conflict,” Ratner emphasized. “We say that publicly. We say that privately. Our primary interest is in upholding the order that has, for decades, sustained the region’s peace.”
Ratner added, “And while we will always stand ready to prevail in conflict, it is the primary responsibility of the Department of Defense to prevent it and deterrence as the cornerstone of our strategy.”
The Assistant Secretary said Republicans and Democrats recognize that the Pentagon “should and must prioritize the PRC as the pacing challenge for the United States.”
Ratner’s comments come the same day Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called out China by name for threatening stability in the region, saying that the PRC has been attempting to “gain regional influence.”
The Pentagon warnings come days after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley directed his staff to collect information on all interactions between Chinese and the U.S. militaries in the last five years.
The directive from Milley comes after the U.S. Navy destroyer sailed close to island lands controlled by China in the South China Sea in operation intended to “uphold the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea.” It also comes as top intelligence community officials warn of the threat Beijing poses to the United States.
Earlier in the month, FBI Director Christopher Wray said China poses the “biggest long-term threat” to national security and the U.S. economy.
The National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) also warned that local and state leaders are at “risk” of being “manipulated” to support “hidden agendas” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as China seeks to target officials outside of Washington to promote Beijing-friendly policies at the federal level.
CIA Director William Burns issued a warning similar to Wray’s back in April, noting China has been a “silent partner to Russian President Vladimir Putin in his continuing, unprovoked attacks on Ukraine.
At the time, Burns said China is “in many ways, the most profound test the CIA has ever faced” and called China a “formidable competitor lacking in neither ambition nor capability.”
Regarding the Indo-Pacific, Republicans in the House warned of China’s “rapid expansion and militarization” of the region and called the country’s moves a “significant threat” to the globe and the security of the United States.
A spokesperson with the State Department said the Biden administration wants an Indo-Pacific that is “open, connected, prosperous, resilient and secure — and we are ready to work together with each nation to achieve it.”
The official continued, “We, along with allies and partners, including those in the region, have made our concerns clear about China’s shadowy, unspecified deals with little regional consultation,” warning that as the PRC’s involvement in the region has grown, we have seen a range of increasingly problematic behavior.”