The US Indo-Pacific commander has urged America's strategic decision-making body to increase financial investment in the region to counter China's expanding economic and military influence.
"Through fear and coercion, Beijing is working to expand its form of ideology in order to bend, break and replace the existing rules-based international order," Admiral Phil Davidson told a panel at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, according to a report on the US Naval Institute website.
"In its place, Beijing seeks to create a new international order led by China and with 'Chinese characteristics' - an outcome that displaces the stability and peace of the Indo-Pacific that has endured for over 70 years," he said.
Davidson warned that China had become the "principal threat" to American interests, people and allies with the modernisation of the People's Liberation Army in the past two decades.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Davidson's remarks were aimed at finding excuses for the US military's bigger presence in the region.
"(We) hope relevant parties … will not make trouble and do more constructive work for regional stability and development," Hua told a regular press briefing on Thursday.
Highlighting China's eight artificial island projects in the South China Sea, Davidson said the US Indo-Pacific Command and its allies and partners in the region would step up their freedom of navigation operations so Beijing would understand that the international community did not accept its claims in the region.
He said foreign investment funding for the Indo-Pacific Command was not enough to cope with the new challenges posed by China, which he said was using its wealth to buy influence in the region. He suggested Washington take a whole nation approach to counter China's influence.
"Right now, the Indo-Pacific Command gets just a small portion of the foreign military financing, really less than 5 per cent overall," Davidson told the panel. "We need to take a look at where we can better put that money in the region to help compete."
Military experts said Davidson's remarks suggested that the US Indo-Pacific Command realised freedom of navigation operations were not enough to counter China's military ambitions in the region.
"The US needs a proper grand strategy, utilising a more holistic set of instruments in a more concerted manner - also in sync with allies and partners - in order to cope with the Chinese challenge," said Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said Davidson's comments indicated the Indo-Pacific Command would forge closer links with its allies and partners and try to curb China's activities in the region.
"Davidson realises that more than 75 per cent of China's crude oil needs to be transported via the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, so he wants to block China's maritime routes by joining (forces with) other allies and partners in the region," Li said.
Hong Kong-based miliary expert Song Zhongping said it was usual for the hawkish US admiral to play up the "China threat".
"If Davidson wants the US allies and partners to work with him to contain China, he really needs more funds, so he needs to exaggerate China's military influence," Song said.
"As the top naval commander, Davidson intends to make China the US's number one strategic opponent, so he needs to fight for more budget to help his country contain its greatest rival."
But Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a visiting Indian fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said aside from military assistance, the US also needed to provide funding to counter Beijing's "Belt and Road Initiative" in the region.
"Infrastructure funding and financial support from the US will provide alternatives for countries in the region to push China for more transparency and better deals," he said. "What is required is a combination of economic and security strategies to provide alternatives and not just criticise Chinese actions."
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