US sees rising Chinese military activity in South China Sea

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo last week in Manila assured the Philippines that a defence treaty would apply if its vessels or planes are attacked in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo last week in Manila assured the Philippines that a defence treaty would apply if its vessels or planes are attacked in the South China Sea.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - The US has observed a rise in Chinese military activity in the South China Sea area over the last year, according to the top American military officer in the region.

Admiral Philip Davidson, the commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, declined to quantify the increased activity - nor would he say whether the number of US freedom of navigation patrols would increase or remain stable.

He did, however, underscore the American resolve to remain engaged, describing the US as an "enduring Pacific power."

"It's building, it's not reducing in any sense of the word," Adm Davidson told reporters on Thursday (March 7) in Singapore when asked about China's military activities in the South China Sea.

"There has been more activity with ships, fighters and bombers over the last year than in previous years, absolutely.

"It's a hazard to trade flows, the commercial activity, the financial information that flows on cables under the South China Sea, writ large,"he added.

Adm Davidson's comments are the latest from a senior US official seeking to reassure allies in Southeast Asia of the American commitment to what Washington refers to as the Indo-Pacific region.

 
 

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo last week in Manila assured the Philippines that a defence treaty would apply if its vessels or planes are attacked in the South China Sea.

DEFENCE PACT

That reassurance hasn't stemmed all concerns, however.

Top Philippine officials have clashed over whether the mutual defence pact with the US needs to be changed.

While Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin has said the 1951 accord should stay the same, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana wants it reviewed, even after Mr Pompeo's assurances.

The US hasn't stopped Chinese "aggressive actions" so far, Mr Lorenzana noted in a statement earlier this week, while warning that vagueness in the document could cause "chaos during a crisis" and that the Philippines didn't want to be dragged into a shooting war it didn't start.

China has targeted a 7.5 per cent increase in defence spending in 2019, a slowdown from last year's projected 8.1 per cent increase though still seen as consistent with President Xi Jinping's plans to grow and advance the military.

Adm Davidson said he sees no sign of a slowdown in China's defence capabilities, despite the reduced growth trajectory. More spending, he said, was still an increase.