The Obama administration has ordered the Pentagon to quit referring to the country’s response to Chinese expansion in the Asia-Pacific as a “competition,” as the word is too inflammatory, sources familiar with the directive told the Navy Times.
Over the past decade, China has aggressively expanded its military presence in the South China Sea, including creating number of fortified, man-made islands within the region.
As a result of the increased Chinese naval presence, countries, including Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and the United States — in addition to other world powers — have experienced strained relations with Beijing.
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The U.S. has, in response to the increased military presence, attempted to form strategic alliances in the region to balance out the expansion.
The Navy has also sailed ships close to disputed boundaries claimed by China to exercise freedom of navigation under the rules of “innocent passage,” in an effort to deter Chinese aggression, according to The Washington Free Beacon.
A number of high-profile U.S. military commanders have also weighed in.
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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, have both previously referred to the American response as a “competition” or “great power competition.”
According to the Navy Times report, in a classified document directed at the Pentagon, the National Security Council recently ordered military leaders to stop using language referring to the dispute as a “competition” when discussing the issue publicly.
The news outlet reported:
[…] a recent directive from the National Security Council ordered Pentagon leaders to strike out that phrase and find something less inflammatory, according to four officials familiar with the classified document, revealed here for the first time by Navy Times.
Obama administration officials and some experts say “great power competition” inaccurately frames the U.S. and China as on a collision course, but other experts warn that China’s ship building, man-made islands and expansive claims in the South and East China seas are hostile to U.S. interests. This needlessly muddies leaders’ efforts to explain the tough measures needed to contain China’s rise, these critics say.
Bryan McGrath, a naval expert and retired destroyer skipper, told the Navy Times the White House’s explanation is “an exercise in nuance and complexity, purposely chosen by the administration to provide maximum flexibility, to prevent them from committing to a real structural approach to the most important national security challenge of our time.”
Despite an international tribunal that found this year China has no rights to waters around man-made and other island chains in the Asia-Pacific region, the country has threatened to move forward with a new island-building project that would put forces within 140 miles of the Philippines’ capital, Manila, and a nearby U.S. military base.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has criticized China’s island-building.
“We have rebuilt China, and yet they will go in the South China Sea and build a military fortress the likes of which perhaps the world has not seen,” Trump said. “Amazing, actually. They do that, and they do that at will because they have no respect for our president and they have no respect for our country.”
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