The U.S. competition with China is the ongoing challenge of this generation, Randall Schriver said at a Brookings Institution event in Washington.
Schriver, the assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific security affairs, spoke as the Chinese Communist Party celebrated 70 years of rule in the world’s most populous nation. He said the United States military must adapt to deter China.
Schriver spoke about why the competition is happening and what the two nations are competing for.
U.S. strategic competition with China is a major element of national strategy, he said. “We feel we are in competition because fundamentally we have different visions, different aspirations and different views of what regional security architecture should look like,” Schriver said.
The United States wants a free and open Indo-Pacific founded on enduring principles and values that “are near universal and widely shared,” he said. These include respect for national sovereignty, fair, free and reciprocal trade, a rule-based order and peaceful dispute resolution.
“We observe that China [under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party] has a different vision and aspirations and is increasingly developing the tools to pursue its vision and seems willing to accept more friction in pursuit of that vision,” he said. “Globally, China seeks to shape a world consistent with its authoritarian model and national goals. We see that domestic governance in China as a result of CCP rule is increasingly authoritarian and less respectful of human rights and dignity.”
China has launched influence operations to undermine free elections, used economic coercion on neighboring countries and encourages outright theft of other nations’ intellectual property. “We see them extending their military presence overseas and expanding the ‘One-belt, One-road’ initiative to include military ties with China,” Schriver said. “And we see [China] deploying advanced weapons to militarizing disputed features despite pledges at the senior-most level that they would not do so.”
For years, China has said it would field a world-class military by 2049, and DOD takes the country’s statements at face value. “The department views military developments in China as seeking to erode U.S. military advantages,” Schriver said. “They are working to become the preeminent power in the Indo-Pacific while simultaneously making plans to expand its presence and sustain its capabilities farther from Chinese shores.”
China is seeking to base troops and develop military capabilities in Africa, the Middle East and in the Western Pacific Ocean area.
At the most basic level, what the United States is competing for is to “sustain a position within the regional and international system that allows us to promote, support and protect a liberal rules-based order whose institutions, rules and norms have fostered peace for decades,” the assistant secretary said.
This matters, he said, because if the Chinese Communist Party wins, the world will look very different. Sovereignty would erode, leaving states with less or no control over their decisions. International and regional organizations would have less influence and sway. “Freedom of the seas and overflight in the Indo-Pacific may be challenged,” he said. “We could also see a normalization of the lack of respect for individual and human rights. All this portends a less free and less open Indo-Pacific region with high potential for these trends to manifest on a global scale.”
The U.S. goal is to deter China from a fait accompli, “and to preserve our capacity to deter and prevail at the outset of a crisis,” he said.
U.S. forces are adapting to fight against near-peer competitors. “Instead of expecting to dominate an opponent, our armed forces are learning to expect to be contested throughout a fight, while achieving the political objectives set for them,” he said.
The United States will also rely on its alliance system to counteract Chinese advances. The United States has many treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific and good relations with many more countries. U.S. troops routinely train and operate with allies and partners in the region. All this ensures American and partner forces can act together should the need arise.
Schriver said that the bottom line is the United States will cooperate with China where it makes sense and oppose the nation when that need arises.