12 February 2019

Senate Armed Services Committee Testimony by Admiral Philip S. Davidson, Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command on INDOPACOM Posture—Includes pithy China content

Statement of Admiral Philip S. Davidson, U.S. Navy, Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command before the Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Posture, Hearing on United States Indo-Pacific Command and United States Forces Korea, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC, 12 February 2019.

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China: Military Modernization.

Over the last 20 years, Beijing has undertaken a massive effort to grow and modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA is the principal threat to U.S. interests, U.S. citizens, and our allies inside the First Island Chain—a term that refers to the islands that run from northern Japan through Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia—and the PLA is quickly increasing its ability to project power and influence beyond the First Island Chain. Beijing pursues both qualitative and quantitative efforts to transform its military, modernizing its military platforms while simultaneously increasing the number of platforms in service. Newly-fielded systems include:

  • Beijing’s first aircraft carrier group, centered around its refurbished Soviet-built carrier, reached initial operational capability in mid-2018.
  • Beijing’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier, has completed four sets of sea trials since May 2018 and will likely join the PLA Navy (PLAN) fleet in 2019.
  • The RENHAI-class guided missile cruiser, was launched in 2017; three additional vessels were added to the PLA Navy’s inventory in 2018. This class of vessels will be a key component of PLA Navy carrier strike groups.
  • The FUYU-class fast combat support ship, developed specifically to support aircraft carrier task group operations, was commissioned less than a year ago.

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  • The J-20, the PLA’s first 5th-generation stealth fighter, entered service in February 2018; plans are underway to research a sixth-generation fighter.
  • The Y-20, a domestically-produced heavy-lift aircraft, entered military service in 2016; the Y-20 has a significantly larger payload capacity and range than the PLA’s previous heavy and medium-lift aircraft, which advances Beijing’s strategic airlift capability.
  • The S-400 advanced surface-to-air missile system, received from Russia in April, 2018; the S-400 has a 250-mile range, which could expand the PLA’s air coverage over the Taiwan Strait and other high priority facilities.

The PLA maintains a high operations tempo, primarily in and near China, but is quickly expanding its operating areas beyond the region. The PLA’s Naval Escort Task Force (NETF)— now in its 31st iteration—follows its anti-piracy missions off the Horn of Africa by conducting naval diplomacy deployments to Europe, Africa, and the South Pacific. From May-July 2018, the 28th NETF completed a three-month naval diplomacy tour conducting port visits and bilateral exercises in Spain, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Gabon, South Africa, and Indonesia before returning to China. Beijing regularly conducts joint military exercises across its ground, sea, air, and space forces, including amphibious assault training that is designed and specifically timed to intimidate Taiwan. This spring, approximately10,000 PLA Marines traveled more than 1,200 miles as part of a large-scale exercise designed to improve long-range maneuverability. In April, Beijing conducted a live-fire exercise into the Taiwan Strait with coastal artillery, and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) bombers regularly circumnavigate Taiwan.

Beijing continues pursuing next-generation technologies and advanced weapons systems, including hypersonic glide vehicles, directed energy weapons, electromagnetic railguns, counterspace weapons, and unmanned and artificial intelligence-equipped weapons. The PLA has also made significant technological, game-changing developments in its ability to defeat, or drastically reduce, the effectiveness of U.S. sensors and defensive weapons. The PLA has tested hypersonic missiles since 2014, including the WU-14, with speeds approaching Mach 10. In August 2018, Beijing claimed to have successfully tested its first hypersonic aircraft.

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Beijing is also modernizing and adding new capabilities across its nuclear forces. China’s third generation Type 096 nuclear-powered Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBN) will be armed with JL-3 sea-launched ballistic missiles and will likely begin construction in the early-2020s. In April, Beijing confirmed the DF-26 entered service—a road-mobile, nuclear, and conventional capable Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), expanding Beijing’s near-precision strike capability as far as the Second Island Chain (a term that refers to the southern part of the Aleutian Islands, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the Republic of Palau, and northern Papua New Guinea). Beijing continues testing its DF-41 road-mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), which carries multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles and has a range of up to 9,300 miles.

South China Sea. Beijing maintains maritime claims in the South China Sea that are contrary to international law and pose a substantial long-term threat to the rules-based international order. Beijing ignored the 2016 ruling of an Arbitral Tribunal established under Annex VII of the Law of the Sea Convention, which concluded that China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the “nine-dash line” are contrary to UNCLOS and without legal effect. In April 2018, Beijing continued militarizing outposts by deploying advanced military systems that further enhance the PLA’s power projection capabilities, including missiles and electronic jammers. These actions run directly counter to President Xi’s 2015 commitment not to militarize these features. On multiple occasions, Beijing has landed military transport aircraft on the Spratly Islands and long-range bombers on the Paracel Islands. Additionally, Chinese Coast Guard vessels now fall under the command of the Central Military Commission and regularly harass and intimidate fishing vessels from our treaty ally, the Philippines, operating near Scarborough Reef, as well as the fishing fleets of other regional nations.

East China Sea. Beijing continues using its military forces to advance its territorial claims in the East China Sea. Beijing maintains a high level of surface combat patrols in the East China Sea. Additionally, Chinese Coast Guard vessels frequently enter the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands, which the United States recognizes as being under the administrative control of the Japanese. In 2017, these incursions occurred on an average of once every ten days, and

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continued in 2018 at about two per month. Additionally, while Beijing mostly implements United Nations Security Council Resolutions against North Korea, in a number of cases, illicit ship to ship transfers continue to occur within Chinese territorial waters.

Economic Pressure. While the United States strives to promote a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, Beijing is leveraging its economic instrument of power in ways that can undermine the autonomy of countries across the region. Beijing offers easy money in the short term, but these funds come with strings attached: unsustainable debt, decreased transparency, restrictions on market economies, and the potential loss of control of natural resources. Beijing’s actions in this regard have potential military ramifications as well. Beijing touts its need to safeguard its citizens abroad and defend its expanding global interests in order to justify increased permanent PLA overseas basing and presence. Beijing is also exploiting growing debt burdens to access strategic infrastructure in the region. In December 2017, Sri Lanka handed over control of the newly-built Hambantota seaport to Beijing with a 99-year lease because Sri Lanka could no longer afford its debt payments to China.

Over the last year, we have seen that countries across the region are becoming more aware of the threat Beijing’s economic policies pose. Malaysia announced the cancellation of three projects worth $22 billion in August 2018, declaring that it could not afford Beijing’s projects, decrying the corrupt practices associated with the projects, and criticizing the loans as a “new version of colonialism.” The Maldives’ former president described Beijing’s investments as a “land grab” under the guise of development. In contrast, the United States’ vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific strives to preserve the autonomy of independent nations in the Indo-Pacific region. We must continue to support countries that stand up to Beijing’s coercive economic policies whenever possible and help those countries offset any economic blowback from Beijing. Our engagement in the Indo-Pacific must truly be a whole-of-government undertaking, in partnership with the private sector and civil society, to counter China’s economic coercion.

Arctic and Antarctic. Beijing recognizes the growing strategic significance of the Arctic and Antarctic and has signaled its plans to assert a greater role in these regions. Despite not being an Arctic nation, Beijing published its first Arctic policy paper in 2018, which defends Beijing’s

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role in the region and outlines Beijing’s vision of a “Polar Silk Road” to complement its other economic initiatives. Beijing launched its first domestically built icebreaking research vessel in September 2018, and Beijing plans to launch its second in 2019. Beijing also opened bidding for construction of its first nuclear-powered icebreaker. Beijing wants to boost its polar research and expedition capabilities and recently announced plans to double the frequency of its Arctic expeditions to once a year. Beijing has also expressed increasing interest in Antarctic operations and establishing logistics stations to supply them. This is of increasing concern to our ally Australia, as well as New Zealand, as Beijing seeks positional advantage and control of territory and natural resources in these vital regions.

Fentanyl and Pre-Cursors Chemicals. Another challenge that affects the security environment indirectly is the continuing fentanyl and opioid crisis in the United States. Illicit fentanyl, as well as legal pre-cursor chemicals used in the production of illegal drugs primarily originate from China. Moreover, technological advancements in e-commerce and commercial shipping present a different business model from the traditional methods used by transnational criminal organizations for drug trafficking. These innovations represent a new level of complexity for U.S. law enforcement agencies and policymakers alike. I welcome the PRC’s decision to designate and regulate fentanyl as a controlled substance after President Xi’s meeting with President Trump in Argentina in December of last year, and we look forward to seeing tangible progress.