PACOM Chief Says US Losing Military Dominance to China in Asian-Pacific

The U.S. commander in the Pacific is warning that the United States is losing its military air and sea dominance to China in the Asia-Pacific region.

Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III described the power shift at the annual Surface Navy Association conference in Virginia Wednesday, adding that the growing Chinese military is a risk factor for U.S. Navy ships and troops stationed in the Pacific, Defense News reports. 

“Our historic dominance that most of us in this room have enjoyed is diminishing, no question,” said Locklear, chief of the United States Pacific Command (PACOM). 

“We need to think about all scenarios, not just the ones we’ve been dealing with over the last several years where we’ve enjoyed basic air superiority and basic sea superiority,” he added. “There are places in the world where in this century we won’t have them.”

While it is clear that China’s military power is on the rise, Locklear said, the question remains whether China will actively seek to challenge U.S. dominance in that region. The goal in Washington, he said, should be pushing Chinese officials to work with the United States to secure the region. 

“China is going to rise, we all know that. [But] how are they behaving? That is really the question,” the Navy commander said. “The PACOM goal is for China to be a net provider of security, not a net user of security.” 

According to The Washington Times, Locklear’s remarks raise a lot of questions about how the Pentagon expects China to provide security in the region when Beijing and Moscow are both considered challengers to U.S. dominance there. 

“The problem with this formulation is, for whom does Adm. Locklear think China will be providing security?” asked Dean Cheng of The Heritage Foundation, the Times reported. “The implicit answer is, ‘To everyone,’ because the assumption is that we can somehow mold China into being ourselves — that China will see its interests as somehow congruent and coincident with those of the United States, and therefore China will assume the mantle of regional provider of public goods.

“But this is a remarkable assumption, especially in light of recent Chinese behavior,” Cheng told the Times. “China is not interested in providing security for everyone and, frankly, not even for anyone other than itself. This is the kind of bizarre lens that led one of Adm. Locklear’s predecessors to offer to help China with its carrier development.” 

China attempted to assert its authority in November when it declared an air defense zone over most of the East China Sea that included islands currently involved in a territorial dispute with Japan. 

The United States promptly tested the threat that China would take “defensive emergency measures” against aircraft that flew through the zone without first identifying itself by sending two B-52 bombers over the islands in dispute. The fly over took place “without incident” in what the Pentagon described was a “long-planned” training exercise. 

But in December, a Chinese warship nearly collided with a Navy missile cruiser, and early in January, China tested a high speed hypersonic missile vehicle that could reach the U.S. defense system. Both are considered additional signs of China’s growing military dominance. 

Despite all the Chinese military activity in the region, Locklear said he is still more concerned about “an unpredictable North Korea” and its nuclear program.