(Headline USA) China’s incursion of U.S. airspace last week was the latest red flag that the trans-atlantic superpower is intentionally putting itself on a collision course that will result in military action.
But according to the U.S. military’s top brass, Americans have no reason to panic.
U.S. armed forces and their allies in Asia are ready for battle after years of joint combat exercises, Maj. Gen. Joseph Ryan said Wednesday, adding that Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine should serve as a warning to potential Asian aggressors like China and North Korea.
“I’m personally very buoyed by what I see by our allies and partners in this region and the way we’ve come together in response to aggression by the PRC, by North Korea to say, ‘We will not let that stand,’” Ryan said, using the acronym for China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.
U.S. treaty allies like the Philippines, Japan and Australia, among others, “have shown that they will band together, that they will not stand for aggression from these nations that have decided they want to change the world order out here,” said Ryan, who serves as commanding general of the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division based in Hawaii.
Although Asia has no counterpart to the Euro-centric NATO alliance, a network of U.S. treaty alliances and defense partnerships upholding the international order provides a regional safeguard, he told the Associated Press in an interview Wednesday from the Philippenes, where he was talking with Philippine counterparts ahead of two annual largescale combat exercises.
The war games are expected to include live-fire exercises and ground, sea and air assault maneuvers involving thousands of U.S. and Filipino troops in March and April.
The Philippines, America’s oldest treaty ally in Asia, used to host the largest U.S. Navy and Air Force bases outside the American mainland. It continues to allow larger numbers of visiting U.S. forces to stay in rotating batches, and to pre-position weapons and combat equipment in at least nine Philippine military camps under a 2014 defense pact.
Amid Chinese saber-rattling over the South China Sea—a resource-rich and busy waterway where Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also lay overlapping territorial claims—the Philppines’s decision to allow a broader American military presence was announced during a visit last week to Manila by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
China has frowned on combat exercises involving the Americans in coastal areas facing the region, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety.
It has accused Washington of meddling in Asian disputes and dangerously militarizing the disputed territory by regularly deploying U.S. Navy warships and jet fighters there—and in the northern Luzon region, which lies across a narrow sea border from Taiwan.
While China has taken increasingly assertive actions to cement its territorial claims, Ryan said he hoped combat-readiness exercises would make potential aggressors think twice.
The U.S. and the Philippines have agreed to hold about 500 small and major combat exercises in 2023 and expand annual military drills following disruptions caused by two years of coronavirus lockdowns, according to Philippine military officials.
“That does provide some deterrent effect against an adversary in the region, who would look at that and say, ‘I don’t want to take a step that may cause a government, a politician, to decide to go because I don’t know that I can win if I’ve got to face that trained, ready force,’” Ryan said.
Military commanders say the joint exercises are not directed against any particular country, but Ryan said China’s increasingly aggressive actions were an alarming reality the region should brace for.
“Does the backdrop of PRC aggression enter our minds when we train? Absolutely,” he said—and, in the case of the Philippines, U.S. forces needed to be ready to fulfill their obligations under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.
“We feel duty-bound to ensure that the Philippines can maintain and will maintain their sovereignty,” Ryan said. “So aggression from the People’s Republic of China that makes our treaty ally uncomfortable makes us uncomfortable.”
The Philippines filed nearly 200 diplomatic protests in 2022 alone against China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
Asked if U.S. forces and their Asian allies were ready to respond if a major crisis similar to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine breaks out in the region, Ryan said, “Absolutely.”
“I’m very comfortable that we’re ready, but that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied,” said Ryan, who commands about 12,000 soldiers under his infantry division. “We can always get better.”
He said experts would be flown in from Hawaii to train American and Filipino army troops in jungle survival and combat tactics during the Salaknib, the first of two major combat-readiness exercises starting next month in the Philippines.
Ryan said America’s adversaries should consider political dialogue and diplomacy because “war is complicated … it’s violent, it can go a number of different ways.
He said Russian President Vladimir Putin had found that out the hard way by underestimating American resolve to send at least $100 million in funding and weaponry to Ukraine, which does not have a mutual defense treaty with the U.S.
“We thought that Ukraine would quickly succumb to Russian military power,” Ryan said. “That didn’t happen. The most important reason in my view, by far, was the will of the Ukraine people to fight.”
It was also crucial that the United States and NATO had helped train Ukrainian troops and enhanced their capabilities to deal with security contingencies for years before Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, he said.
“I think our allies in the region value their sovereignty, value their freedom, value their independence. And no adversary should take that lightly,” Ryan said.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press