INDOPACOM: China Has Not Responded to U.S. Attempts to Establish Communication

March 16, 2023 7:17 PM
Adm. John C. Aquilino, Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, listens to a brief during the USINDOPACOM Commander’s Summit in Hawaii on Dec. 13, 2022. U.S. Navy Photo

China has not responded to any of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s requests to establish direct communication channels between its commander and the commanders of China’s main military commands, Adm. John Aquilino said Thursday.

Defense chiefs of partner nations approached Aquilino in August 2021 during the annual Indo-Pacific Chiefs of Defense conference, hosted by INDOPACOM, and asked the U.S. to establish communication with China, Aquilino said Thursday during a event hosted by the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

“At that event, many of my partners came over and said, ‘hey, you really need to engage and develop an ability to communicate with a) all of us and b) with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) leadership,” Aquilino said.

He followed the advice of the other defense leaders and requested to speak with the PRC’s Eastern and South Theater commanders, Aquilino said.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and then-China’s Minister of National Defense Gen. Wei Fenghe agreed in November 2022 that operational commanders should keep lines of communication open. However, Aquilino has not received any response in a year and a half.

Aquilino continues to request communication with the Chinese government, he said. It concerns him that he doesn’t have the ability to talk to someone on the Chinese side should a reason to communicate arise.

The two countries are competing, he said, with China considered to be the pacing challenge.

“And by competing, clearly demonstrate the superiority of the rules-based international order to provide all nations the opportunity to reach their full potential,”Aquilino said.

There are countries that look to disrupt the current system in ways that benefit themselves but would come at the cost of others, he said, although he did not specify which countries. The countries often use coercion and justify their actions through the belief that power is more important, he argued.

Aquilino added that these countries also made illegal excessive territorial claims based solely on revisionist history and empowered their law enforcement authorities to harass nations operating legally within those nations’ own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Some of these revisionist powers have proposed alternative security options, which may look benign on the surface, but the real purpose is to establish an alternative to the rules-based order in ways that benefit one nation at the expense of others.

During the question and answer session, the INDOPACOM commander said it’s too early to provide specific details on future U.S. nuclear attack submarine deployments under the AUKUS agreement and whether the AUKUS deployments would increase the number of U.S. nuclear attack submarines operating in the Indo-Pacific. He said the details are not fleshed out yet and the focus is moving the agreement as fast as possible and to deliver the capability Australia needs.

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter sits aboard the flight deck of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Midgett (WMSL 757) while the vessel transits the Indian Ocean, Sep. 12, 2022. U.S. Coast Guard Photo.

Aquilino said he welcomed greater involvement by the U.S. Coast Guard and European nations in the region. In many cases, the U.S. Coast Guard is the right force for missions in the region, particularly in law enforcement and in combatting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, he said.

Aquilino and his U.S. Coast Guard counterpart coordinate and operate together to achieve the objectives of the United States, “and it’s a really great team, I am looking for more Coast Guard, and as the Coast Guard balances across their global commitments, anything additional they can provide to the Pacific, we certainly have use for” Aquilino said.

On European nations, he said he invites U.S. partners to deploy to the Indo-Pacific, join exercises, operate with his command, and build relationships with partners in the Indo-Pacific. Aquilino thanked France for their past deployments to the region that involved a number of activities with the U.S. and regional partners.

In response to a question about a U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle rotationally deploying to Singapore, Aquilino said there’s a requirement for the deployment that’s been facilitated with short and close coordination with Singapore. He said it’s an example of the close partnership, the ability to coordinate quickly, understand each other’s operations and support each other when needed.

Meanwhile, the U.S Navy in a Thursday news release announced that the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicle operated by Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19 finished its deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet deployment area of responsibility. The squadron will deploy again to the region this year.

“The MQ-4C began operating in the 7th Fleet area of operations (AOO) in 2020 to commence developing tactics, techniques, and procedures for unmanned aircraft operations. The two aircraft in the baseline configuration known as Integrated Functional Capability (IFC) 3 were forward deployed supporting Commander, Task Force 72 tasking. During this time, Triton conducted ISR operations using its multi-sensor mission payload,” the Navy news release reads.

The MQ-4C squadron was mainly based at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, it also operated from Misawa Air Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan to test out “expeditionary basing,” according to the release.

“VUP-19 will return to 7th Fleet in 2023 to start the MQ-4C’s initial operational capability (IOC). The IOC period will utilize multiple Triton aircraft in the upgraded IFC-4 configuration to conduct enhanced MISR&T operations with an upgraded sensor suite,” the release reads.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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