Harry Harris, who has been nominated to be the next US ambassador to Australia, told the House Committee on Armed Services on Thursday that the US would rely on Australia to help uphold the international rules-based system in the Pacific.
“Judging by China’s regional behavior I am concerned that China will now work to undermine the rules-based international order, not just in the Indo-Pacific but on a global scale.” he said.
“If the US does not keep pace [Pacific Command] will struggle to compete with the People’s Liberation Army on future battlefields,” he added.
He claimed that China is using “military modernization, influence operations and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific to their advantage.”
The 61-year-old admiral accused China of increasingly adopting an aggressive posture in the region and said that its military might could soon rival American power “across almost every domain.”
He said the United States and its allies should be wary of what he called China’s military expansionism in the region.
“China’s intent is crystal clear. We ignore it at our peril,” he said. “I’m concerned China will now work to undermine the international rules-based order.”
“Australia is one of the keys to a rules-based international order,” said Harris, soon to retire as the head of US Pacific Command in Hawaii. “I look to my Australian counterparts for their assistance, I admire their leadership in the battlefield and in the corridors of power in the world.
“They are a key ally of the United States and they have been with us in every major conflict since world war one,” he stated.
On Monday, the US Defense Department called on Congress to approve a major budget increase in order to counter “threats” from Russia, China, and North Korea.
The Pentagon asked for a budget of $686 billion to be allocated to military spending in 2019. The requested amount is one of the largest in US history, and is also focused on beefing up the country's nuclear arsenal. The budget sees an increase of $80 billion from 2017.
On top of the $686 billion budget request was an additional $30 billion for agencies including the Department of Energy, which maintains American nuclear weapons.
Under-Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist told reporters on Monday that the budget aims to neutralize threats posed by China and Russia which “want to shape a world consistent with their own authoritarian intentions.”
"We recognize that, if unaddressed, our eroding US military advantage versus China and Russia could undermine our ability to deter aggression and coercion in key strategic regions,” he added.
According to the budget document, Beijing is "using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea."
China "seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term," the document claims, but in the long term seeks to "achieve global preeminence" over the United States.
Last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned of “growing threats” from Russia and China, saying the US military’s advantages over the two countries have eroded in recent years.
The assessment was part of an unclassified summary of the Pentagon's new National Defense Strategy Mattis unveiled on January 19.
"We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models,” he said.
In December 2017, Trump unveiled a new "America First" national security strategy that named China and Russia as "competition," claiming that the two countries sought to "challenge American power, influence, and interests."