Free and Open Indo-Pacific/FOIPNortheast Asia

USINDOPACOM Commander: U.S. will defend Indo-Pacific freedoms

The Associated Press

United States Navy Adm. John Aquilino, pictured, Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said in March 2023 that Washington does not seek to contain the People’s Republic of China (PRC), nor seek conflicts in the region, but it would take action to support the region against coercion and bullying by authoritarian regimes.

Speaking at a lecture in Singapore, Aquilino said the era of globalization has evolved into one of “renewed great power competition” where the security environment influences economics, trade and investment.

“My concern is that this foundation of this rules-based international order … is under direct assault by authoritarian regimes,” he said, without naming any nations, though he noted recent actions by the PRC to “grab a foothold” in the Solomon Islands.

A security alliance between the PRC and the Solomon Islands a year ago raised concerns throughout the South Pacific, with many worried it could set off a large-scale military buildup.

Aquilino also addressed the PRC’s protests over U.S. vessels and aircraft in the Taiwan Strait, where Beijing has renewed its threats against Taiwan, which the PRC views as its territory, threatening to bring Taiwan under its control by force if necessary.

While the U.S. is not seeking conflict nor supporting Taiwan’s independence, Aquilino said the military will continue to “fly, sail and operate” in the region to uphold freedom of navigation provisions under international law.

“Revisionist powers seek to disrupt and displace the current system in ways that benefit themselves, and at the expense of all others. They use coercion, intimidation to achieve their objectives and they justify their action under a theory of ‘might equals right,’” he said.

“They make illegal excessive territorial claims not based on anything other than revisionist history. They empower law enforcement entities to harass nations operating legally within their own exclusive economic zones. They break formal commitments. They ignore international legal rulings. They avoid requirements delivered under the U.N. Charter,” he said, a reference to aggressive Chinese actions in the South China Sea and rising Chinese incursions into Taiwan air defense zones.

Aquilino said the PRC has a role to play in the world if it adheres to the rules-based order, especially regarding North Korea.

In 2022, Pyongyang launched 70 missiles, which Aquilino characterized as the highest number of missile launches in the history of the Kim regime’s history of provocative actions. He noted that North Korea illegally launched an intercontinental ballistic missile hours before the leaders of South Korea and Japan were to meet at a Tokyo summit. The North fired multiple banned ballistic missiles in March 2023, a move Pyongyang said was in response to drills between the Republic of Korea and U.S. forces. Analysts say the tests, which are banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions, are part of Kim Jong Un’s bigger objective to expand his arsenal.

North Korea’s actions have threatened South Korea and Japan and it has “developed the capabilities to threaten the United States as well,” he said.

“It is destabilizing, it’s unpredictable, it’s continuing, it’s not slowing down,” Aquilinosaid, adding that the potential for the PRC to help to dissuade North Korea from executing these events would be helpful.


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