The Chinese military has become significantly more aggressive and dangerous over the past five years, the top US military officer said during a trip to the Indo-Pacific.
Speaking in Indonesia, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the number of intercepts by Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region on US and other partner forces has increased significantly over that time.
He said the number of unsafe interactions has also 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,” he said on Sunday.
His comments came as the US redoubles its efforts to strengthen its relationships with Pacific nations as a counter-balance to China, which is trying to expand its presence and influence in the region.
The Biden administration considers China its “pacing threat” and America’s primary long-term security challenge.
Gen Milley’s trip to the region is sharply focused on the China threat. He will attend a meeting of Indo-Pacific chiefs of defence this week in Sydney, where key topics will be China’s escalating military growth and the need to maintain a free, open and peaceful Pacific.
US military officials have also raised alarm about the possibility that China could invade Taiwan, the democratic, self-ruled island that Beijing views as a breakaway province.
China has stepped up its military provocations against Taiwan as it looks to intimidate it into unifying with the communist mainland.
According to officials in Washington, Beijing wants to be ready to make a move on the island by 2027.
The US remains Taiwan’s chief ally and supplier of defence weapons, and American law requires the government to treat all threats to the island as matters of “grave concern”.
However, the law is ambiguous as to whether the US military would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China.
China’s top military officer, General Li Zuocheng, told Gen Milley in a July 7 call that Beijing has “no room for compromise” on issues such as Taiwan.
He said US-Taiwan military collusion must cease, and Washington must “avoid impacting China-US ties and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.
Gen Milley’s visit to Indonesia is the first by a US joint chiefs chairman since Admiral Mike Mullen in 2008.
But US leaders have criss-crossed the Asia-Pacific in recent months, including high-profile visits by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The Biden administration has been taking steps to expand its military and security relationship with Indo-Pacific nations as part of a campaign to build a stronger network of alliances in China’s backyard and counter China’s growing influence.