General Mark Milley is visiting the Indo-Pacific to try to strengthen US relationships in the region as China attempts to expand its influence there. Taiwan will be a key focus as Washington believes Beijing will make a move to take the democratic island.
China’s military has become significantly more dangerous and aggressive over the past five years, the US’ top military officer has warned.
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.
The number of unsafe interactions has risen by similar proportions, he said.
“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.
The US is increasing its efforts to strengthen its relationships with Pacific nations to balance out the threat from China, which is trying to expand its influence and presence in the region.
President Joe Biden’s administration has said China is its “pacing threat” and the US’s primary long-term security challenge.
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Gen Milley’s trip to the region is focused on that threat as he meets Indo-Pacific chiefs of defence in Sydney, Australia this week.
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Key topics will include the need to maintain a free, open and peaceful Pacific and China’s escalating military growth.
Taiwan will be one of the main focuses as US military officials have said China could invade Taiwan, the democratic, self-ruled island Beijing sees as a breakaway province.
Chinese military provocations against Taiwan have ramped up as it tries to intimidate it into becoming part of the mainland.
Washington officials have said Beijing wants to be ready to make a move on the island by 2027.
The US is Taiwan’s chief ally and defence weapons supplier, with American law requiring the government to treat all threats to the island as matters of “grave concern”.
But, the law does not explicitly say if the US military would defend Taiwan if China attacked it.
China’s top military officer, General Li Zuocheng, told Gen Milley in a call on 7 July that Beijing has “no room for compromise” on issues such as Taiwan.
He said military collusion between the US and Taiwan must stop and Washington must “avoid impacting China-US ties and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.
In a display of how serious the issue is, Gen Milley’s visit to Indonesia is the first by a US joint chiefs chairman since Admiral Mike Mullen in 2008.
However, US leaders have been visiting the region recently, including high-profile trips by defence secretary Lloyd Austin and secretary of state Antony Blinken.