US head of the Pacific Command in Hawaii and nominee for the US Ambassadorship to Australia, Admiral Harry Harris, told the House Armed Services Committee to be prepared for a potential war with China. He positioned the case that China is pushing an expansionist policy in the region.
Admiral Harris says that China’s “intent is crystal clear”, which he believes is to dominate the South China Sea and to develop a military that might to compete with American power “across almost every domain”. This insecure perspective of America’s chief trade partner seems to come straight from the military and foreign affairs doctrine of the current administration, as President Trump who views China as a rival power, and accused it of “economic aggression”. The new military doctrine sees China, of course in addition to the frightful and meddling Russia, as a threat.
“China’s intent is crystal clear. We ignore it at our peril,” he said. “I’m concerned China will now work to undermine the international rules-based order.”
Harris also warned of a “cult of personality” developing around Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Harris praised Australia as one of America’s staunchest allies in the Asia-Pacific region, noting existing military cooperation at air force bases in the Northern Territory, joint naval exercises and the regular rotation of 1,500 marines through Darwin.
“Australia is one of the keys to a rules-based international order,” Harris said. “I look to my Australian counterparts for their assistance, I admire their leadership in the battlefield and in the corridors of power in the world.
“They are a key ally of the United States and they have been with us in every major conflict since world war one.”
Harris, the Yokosuka-born son of an American naval officer and a Japanese mother, has been nominated by President Donald Trump as the next ambassador to Australia. His appointment must be confirmed by the Senate.
Australia has been without a US ambassador since John Berry departed in September 2016.
Harris said he was alarmed by China’s construction of military bases on seven disputed islands in the South China Sea that neighbouring countries lay territorial claims to.
This is interesting. American military top brass gets worried and pushes for war preparations if a country moves military in and around disputed territories. America, however, has an ally in the Middle East that is commonly making headlines for this kind of thing, and I think it starts with an “I”, and we give them lots of weapons and money and stand up for them on the international scene all the time. We even threaten other countries and international organizations when they don’t applaud it. We don’t perceive them as a threat, and we like to consider their expansionism justified self defense.
In 2016, the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague, sided with the Philippines in the dispute it brought, saying there was no legal basis for China’s claim of historic sovereignty over waters within the so-called nine-dash line in the sea.
Regardless, Chinese military build-up continues in the sea.
“China’s impressive military build-up could soon challenge the United States across almost every domain,” Harris said.
In a separate answer, he said of the risk of conflict with China: “as far as the idea of deterrence and winning wars, I’m a military guy. And I think it’s important you must plan and resource to win a war at the same time you work to prevent it.”
“At the end of the day the ability to wage war is important or you become a paper tiger. I’m hopeful that it won’t come to a conflict with China, but we must all be prepared for that if it should come to that.”
Should Harris be confirmed as the next ambassador to Australia, his hawkish position would present a challenge for Canberra, as it seeks to navigate an increasingly delicate diplomatic and economic relationship with Beijing.
Ties were severely strained last year after a backlash against China’s perceived influence on and infiltration of Australia’s political system, highlighted by the resignation of Labor senator Sam Dastyari over accepting cash from Chinese businessmen for private debts and his position, at odds with his party, on the South China Sea. The Australian government has proposed new espionage laws and tightening of rules around foreign donations to political parties.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, but the US is its primary defence and security ally, and Australia has been a vocal defender of the US alliance network over issues such as the nuclear weapons ban treaty, which the US opposes.
The Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who has previously met Harris in Hawaii, has publicly welcomed his nomination. “Great to see Admiral Harry Harris nominated by [Donald Trump] as US ambassador to Australia. Look forward to seeing you in Canberra, Harry,” Turnbull said on Twitter on February 10.
Turnbull will meet with Trump in Washington next week. It is not known when Harris’s confirmation hearing will take place.
China is viewed as a threat because Washington views their activities in the region as “military expansionism”, and coercive of their regional neighbours. China, in developing its economy, is engaging in predatory economic behaviour. Admiral Harris also took the opportunity to condemn its foreign influence initiatives.
It all sounds very familiar. It sounds much like the rhetoric that is being used to vilify Russia, excepting, of course, the allegations of election meddling and other such pretentious figments.