U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) commanding Adm. John Aquilino warned on Saturday that China is in the midst of the largest military buildup the world has seen in decades.
During a panel discussion with the Ronald Reagan Foundation’s National Defense Forum for 2021, Aquilino said, “What I know we’re watching in the region is the largest military buildup we’ve seen since World War II.” Aquilino offered that assessment when asked how he expects China to react to the recently-formed defense partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S., known as AUKUS.
In 2019, China surpassed the U.S. as the nation with the world’s largest naval force, and it has continued to grow that lead over the U.S. in the two years since. China also recently tested a hypersonic weapon that demonstrated more advanced capabilities than those currently fielded by the U.S., leaving the U.S. with “a lot of catching up to do,” according to U.S. Space Force Gen. David Thompson, the vice chief of space operations.
Aquilino said China’s military buildup was a leading reason behind the formation of AUKUS.
AUKUS was formally announced in September, as the three countries announced plans to share nuclear-propulsion technology, currently fielded on U.S. and U.K. submarines, with Australia.
Aquilino said the plan to share submarine technology with Australia was “an Australian decision to invest in a nuclear submarine program that provides the capabilities they need against the security threats in the region that they see. We certainly endorse their decision.”
Aquilino said AUKUS is just one piece of the U.S. effort to address “security challenges” in the Indo-Pacific region. He said the U.S. is more broadly working with allies and partners in the region to increase cooperation and interoperability.
The admiral noted that INDOPACOM holds 120 different exercises with allies and partner nations annually. “We’re looking to make those more mini-lateral or multilateral,” he added.
Aquilino went on to say the U.S. is also increasingly working to bolster Taiwan’s defenses.
While Taiwan considers itself an independent nation, China considers the island a part of its territory and has increasingly flown large-scale military flights around the island and alluded to reunification and “crushing” Taiwanese independence efforts.
The U.S. position towards Taiwan has been ambiguous as it recognizes Taiwan as part of China and considers the People’s Republic of China to be the legitimate Chinese government, but also provides defensive measures that Taiwan could use to defend itself from a hypothetical Chinese invasion.
According to a November Congressional report, China is nearing or may already have the minimum military capabilities needed to launch a successful invasion of Taiwan.
“Certainly Taiwan is under pressure, as you’ve read about and we’ve seen over the past number of months and, you could argue, years,” Aquilino said. “. . . That’s a pretty tough neighborhood, and we execute our responsibility. We talk to Taiwan about capabilities that we think would be beneficial.”
Aquilino said Taiwan ultimately chooses what defensive aid it wants from the U.S. and the U.S., in turn, provides weapons to Taiwan in accordance with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.