Washington, Feb 23: A top American senator and military commander today expressed strong concerns over rapid Chinese militarisation, apprehending that this might disturb decades of peace in the Asia Pacific region.
"Over the past several years China has acted less like a 'responsible stakeholder' of the rules-based order of the Asia Pacific region and more like a bully," Senator John McCain, Chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee said during a Congressional hearing on the US Pacific Command.
China's increasingly assertive pattern of behaviour calls into serious question whether China's rise will, in fact, be peaceful, he said. Despite US efforts to rebalance to the Asia Pacific, US policy has failed to adapt to the scale and velocity of the challenge being faced, he asserted.
For example, McCain said the Obama administration has insisted that China must cease its reclamation, construction and militarisation in the South China Sea, and that it will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.
"But after more than a year of this rhetoric, China's reclamation, infrastructure, construction and militarisation have all continued," he said. Last week there were press reports that China had deployed the HQ-9 surface-to-air missile system to Woody Island in the Paracel Islands.
"If true, this deployment would represent a blatant violation of Xi Jinping's September 2015 commitment to President Obama in the Rose Garden that China, quote, 'did not intend to pursue militarisation'," McCain alleged.
"Indeed, China's reclamation and militarisation in the South China Sea, together with China's rapid military modernisation and expansion are making it more difficult for the United States to defend our allies and our interests from military aggression," the top Republican Senator said.
In his testimony, Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the US Pacific Command said China views the South China Sea as a strategic frontline in their quest to dominate East Asia out to the Second Island Chain.
"Given China's economic rise, the goal may be natural; however, the lack of transparency on China's overall strategic intent behind its military investments and activities creates instability and regional anxiety," he said, adding Chinese actions are causing concerns among neighbours in the region.
Harris alleged that while China has not clearly defined the scope of its maritime claims in the South China Sea, it has unilaterally changed the status quo.