China 'greatest long-term strategic threat,' to US, top Pacific commander warns

The top U.S. commander in the Indo-Pacific warned lawmakers on Tuesday about the threat China poses to the United States.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command head Adm. Philip Davidson said China represents the “greatest long-term strategic threat to a free and open Indo-Pacific and to the United States.”

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“Those who believe this is reflective of an intensifying competition between an established power in the United States and a rising power in China are not seeing the whole picture,” Davidson said in his opening statement during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

“Rather, I believe we are facing something even more serious: a fundamental divergence in values that leads to two incompatible visions of the future."

Davidson added that Beijing uses “fear and coercion” in an attempt to “expand its form of ideology in order to bend, break and replace the existing rules-based international order.”

“Beijing seeks to create a new order, one with Chinese characteristics led by China, an outcome that displaces the stability and peace of the Indo-Pacific that has endured for over 70 years,” Davidson said. 

The Defense Department in the last few years has shifted its focus, turning to combat so-called great power competitions with Russia and China over smaller insurgencies in the Middle East and Africa.

The Trump administration’s new Missile Defense Review, for instance, focuses heavily on how the United States will deter and counter missile threats from China, as well as Iran, North Korea and Russia.

Tensions between the U.S. and China hit new highs in the past year over trade and claims from the White House that Beijing was attempting to meddle ahead of the midterms to undermine President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE.

Washington and Beijing have also had frequent incidents in disputed areas of the South China Sea, where the United States often conducts military movements.

Most recently, the United States on Sunday night sailed two warships, the USS Spruance and USS Preble, within 12 nautical miles of the disputed Spratly Islands. 

The U.S. Navy said it was a “freedom of navigation operation,” carried out “to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law," Navy spokesman Cmdr. Clay Doss told CNN.

The operation was the second in the South China Sea reported by the Navy this year.

Davidson said during the hearing that the operations “are critically important” not solely for the United States, but for the international free flow of communications, oil, trade, other economic means, cyber connectivity and the movement of people.

He said later in the hearing that in April 2018 China “populated those islands with anti-ship cruise missiles, with surface-to-air missiles and electronic jammers.”