JAKARTA, Indonesia (Dispatches) — The Chinese military has become significantly more aggressive and dangerous over the past five years, the top U.S. military officer said during a trip to the Indo-Pacific that included a stop Sunday in Indonesia.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the number of intercepts by Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region with U.S. and other partner forces has increased significantly over that time, and the number of unsafe interactions has risen by similar proportions.
“The message is the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, have become significantly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region,” said Milley, who recently asked his staff to compile details about interactions between China and the U.S. and others in the region.
His comments came as the U.S. redoubles its push to strengthen its relationships with Pacific nations with the aim of countering China, whose economic and military has alarmed the West. The Biden administration considers China its “pacing threat” and America’s primary long-term security challenge.
Milley’s trip to the region is sharply focused on the perceived China threat. He will attend a meeting of Indo-Pacific chiefs of defense this week in Sydney, Australia, where key topics will be China’s rising military growth.
U.S. military officials have also raised alarms about the possibility that China could annex Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing views as a breakaway province.
U.S. military officials have said Beijing wants to be ready to make a move on the island by 2027. The U.S. remains Taiwan’s chief ally and supplier of weapons. U.S. law requires the government to equip the island with military hardware, but remains ambiguous on whether the U.S. military would intervene to side with Taiwan in the event of a reintegration operation by China.
China’s top military officer, Gen. Li Zuocheng told Milley in a July 7 call that Beijing had “no room for compromise” on issues such as Taiwan. He said he told Milley that the U.S. must “cease U.S.-Taiwan military collusion and avoid impacting China-U.S. ties and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
The U.S. and others are also worried that a recent security agreement that Beijing signed in April with the Solomon Islands could lead to the establishment of a Chinese naval base in the South Pacific. The U.S. and Australia have told the Solomon Islands that hosting a Chinese military base would not be tolerated.
“This is an area in which China is trying to do outreach for their own purposes. And again, this is concerning because China is not doing it just for benign reasons,” Milley told reporters traveling with him. “They’re trying to expand their influence throughout the region. And that has potential consequences that are not necessarily favorable to our allies and partners in the region.”
Milley’s visit to Indonesia is the first by a U.S. joint chiefs