SINGAPORE - The global security environment is under threat and in potentially the most dangerous period since World War II, the top United States military officer in the region here warned on Saturday (June 11).
Admiral John Aquilino, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, cited what he saw as an authoritarian Russian regime undertaking an illegitimate and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, North Korea's nuclear and missile tests threatening the livelihood of all nations, and a slew of Chinese moves as justification for his statement.
"The PRC's (People's Republic of China) destabilising actions throughout the Indo-Pacific include coercion, unsafe intercepts against our allies and partners, failure to respect agreements in the form of Hong Kong, border disputes as identified on the Indian border and the line of actual control, and lastly… a declaration of 'no limits' in the relationship between the PRC and the Russians," said Adm Aquilino.
"That's a new world that we have not seen… These aggressive behaviours are escalating tensions, increasing the potential for miscalculations."
His remarks echoed those of US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier on Saturday during a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit, where he criticised China's approach to territorial claims in the Indo-Pacific.
Mr Austin also framed the Ukraine war as a harbinger of things to come if the rules-based international order is flouted, and maintained that nations in the region should be free to chart their own course.
Beijing responded shortly after by accusing the US of aiming to maintain a hegemony in the region, asking countries to take sides, and of seeking to "drag the Asia-Pacific region into the track of geopolitical rivalry and bloc confrontation".
Speaking at a separate discussion on maritime security at the Dialogue, Adm Aquilino said that most countries in the region share a vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, "where all nations large and small have an equal voice to settle disputes peacefully and can thrive under a rules-based order to secure their own interests".
Internationally recognised agreements and norms have fostered prosperity and protected the rights and choices of all nations in the region, he added.
The admiral said that America's defence of these shared principles was rooted in a resolve to prevent conflict, for instance through maintaining open lines of communication to ensure competition does not escalate into crisis.
"There's constant engagement and dialogue with my partners in the region, and that does not exclude any nation," he said. "None of us should accept changes to the status quo brought about by coercion or force."
Adm Aquilino stressed that the US would "never ask any nation to choose".
"Choices are for sovereign nations. That is the reason we have the rules-based international order," he said. "But as we look towards the future, there's a free and open Indo-Pacific, or there's an opaque and closed Indo-Pacific where might equals right. And those have to be considered by all nations."