“My assessment is that if were China, and I was in the economic position that China is in, and I was in the position where I have to look after my global security interests, I would consider building an aircraft carrier. And I might consider building several aircraft carriers,” said Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of Pacific Command (PACOM). Locklear’s comments echo the Pentagon’s longstanding position that China’s recent military buildup should not be considered a surprise or, necessarily, a threat.
“If the issue is if they are not part of that global security environment, I think we have to be concerned about it.”
The Obama administration has aggressively engaged the Chinese military for the past three years, trying to demystify the intentions behind their buildup and working to integrate them into a larger sense of global security. Pentagon officials and documents constantly state that China is not an “adversary.”
Some China watchers, however, have continued to sound alarms about Beijing’s increasing military-technological pursuits, including the Liaoning (pictured above), a rebuilt Soviet-era aircraft carrier which this year began successfully test flying planes of its deck.
In Washington, there’s clear division over whether to treat the ship, and China’s other pursuits toward military improvements, as a threat or a natural buildup for a major power.
But Locklear, in a rare Pentagon briefing, took a decidedly optimistic view.
“Well, I think we’re hopeful that they are part of the security environment,” he said, “and we’re doing everything that we can possible with the Chinese, at least on the mil-to-mil, to try to bring them into the security environment.”
Obama’s open hand to Beijing appears to be working, as Locklear said U.S.-China military relations between the Pentagon and People’s Liberation Army have improved to “historic” levels in the past two years.
“They have endured diplomatic issues that, in the past, may have stopped them,” Locklear said. Instead, the two sides have been able to keep talking, planning exchanges and exercises, and carry them out.
On Wednesday, the deputy chief of the PLA Navy was at Hawaii’s Pacific Command headquarter talking about the coming two years’ worth of exercises, Locklear noted, including RIMPAC. The U.S. has asked China to participate in the next occurrence of the military’s huge multinational wargame, in 2014.