By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (July 19, 2023) -- The U.S. must continue to meet the pacing challenge presented by the Chinese government's buildup of its military capabilities, the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said yesterday.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Navy Adm. John C. Aquilino said he is concerned about of the buildup of China's army, including its nuclear capabilities, but also that he knows the U.S. remains focused on protecting the homeland and U.S. forces. "It's critical that the U.S. continues our modernization of our strategic capabilities," he said. "It is the bottom-line defense of this nation through strategic nuclear deterrence. That said, the Chinese are going very quickly ... what matters is that we modernize our force and we're ready to be able to respond if need be."
In the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility, Aquilino said the U.S. is also working to strengthen security in the region by building relationships there with partners and between partners, including with South Korea and Japan.
For instance, the USS Kentucky, a ballistic missile submarine, just yesterday made a port call in Busan, South Korea. It's the first time a submarine of its type has visited South Korean since the 1980s.
"We have a mutual defense treaty alliance with both Japan and Korea and that means the entire ... United States Armed forces is ready to support [those] alliances," Aquilino said. "Demonstrating our willingness and our capabilities to our allies is reassuring."
Last week, the general said, the U.S. also flew a B-52 bomber over the Korean peninsula. That flight was accompanied by South Korean and U.S. fighter aircraft as escorts. Before the bomber's arrival in Korea, he said, it had also been escorted by Japanese aircraft as well.
"We assure our allies and partners often," he said. "This is just one of those demonstrations."
Last week, he said, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley visited Hawaii for a trilateral meeting with Japanese and South Korean partners.
"The uniformed members of Japan, [South] Korea and the United States are working together more frequently and more easily," the admiral said. "That trilateral relationship is important. It doesn't come without some long historical issues between [Japan and South Korea]... But the leadership in Japan and Korea right now -- very, very impressive for what they're doing to defend their nations."