The U.S. Navy’s top civilian leader, Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, said this week that China poses a greater threat to the U.S. than anything else in history.
“I think [China] is probably the greatest threat to our country that Americans, writ large, do not understand,” Braithwaite said during a Wednesday event at the Navy Memorial, reported by Military.com. “… I literally believe with all my heart and soul — and I can’t stress this any more — what we are seeing emerging is a threat beyond any comparison ever in the history of our country.”
Braithwaite made his remarks following a week-long trip to the Asia-Pacific region where he met with local leaders in Japan, Singapore, Guam and Palau, and with U.S. sailors and Marines operating in those countries.
Braithwaite, who is a former U.S. Navy admiral and who previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, on Thursday said, “There could be a day in our lifetime, my dear friends, that we will not have the freedom to speak our language the way that we do, to live with free and open society, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to congregate — all those things can be eliminated.”
The warning about the Chinese threat comes amid increased Chinese military activity in the South China Sea. According to a September Pentagon report, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has grown to the largest in the world, with its number of ships surpassing the U.S. Navy’s, 350 to 293 for the U.S. as of early 2020. According to that same report, China was also on track to at least double its number of nuclear warheads within the next decade.
The U.S. has been working to counter China’s military expansion by forming an alliance with other nations in the region. Last week, the U.S., Australia, India and Japan announced plans for a joint naval exercise in November.
U.S. defense leaders have reportedly said India will be important in countering China.
During his comments Wednesday, Braithwaite said he plans to visit India where he said he sees a big opportunity to “open the door, navy-to-navy.”
Braithwaite reportedly said China has also taken advantage of all the times U.S. services have been focused on missions in the Middle East following the 2001 terror attacks in the U.S. He called for the U.S. to refocus its efforts on countering China.
“We can’t say that in America [with] all the domestic quarreling and the divisiveness in our nation right now,” Braithwaite said. “We need to understand that the threat is not from within. … It could affect our children and our children’s children and their ability to live in a free society.”
He added, “[China] is an unbelievable threat to our way of life.”