WASHINGTON -- Foundational to U.S. strategic and integrated deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region is its network of allies and partners. It's an asymmetric advantage that China doesn't have, said Navy Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, in testimony today at a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
In addition to the five treaty allies of the U.S. — Japan, Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand — there are numerous partner nations in the region, he said.
The Defense Department's approach is to engage with regional partners. "We are like-minded nations with common values. We have people-to-people ties, and that's beyond just the treaty allies," he said.
For instance, DOD participates in around 120 exercises a year with allies and partners in the region, he said.
"That strategy and approach is competition, not containment," Aquilino said, referencing China.
"War is not inevitable, and it's not imminent. However, this decade presents a period of increased risk," he said.
Jedidiah P. Royal, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said China continues to conduct coercive military activities in the Taiwan Strait, the South and East China seas, and beyond.
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"Deterrence in the Indo-Pacific is real and strong today because the U.S. military remains the world's most capable, incredible fighting force," Royal said.
The United States is not alone in upholding peace and stability in the region, he said. Japan is increasing its defense budget and is introducing new capabilities including counterstrike.
The U.S. is taking meaningful steps to modernize and strengthen its alliances with South Korea, he said.
The department is working with the Philippines to accelerate its capabilities, and DOD is also making major investments in defense ties with India, he said.
The AUKUS security pact among the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia exemplifies collaboration with highly capable allies to expand combined capacity in the region, he said.
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In December, the U.S. and Australia announced a series of new force-posture initiatives, including increased rotations of U.S. bombers and fighters at Australian bases, he said.
"We continue to fulfill our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, which has formed a bedrock of peace, stability and deterrence in the Taiwan Strait over the last four decades," he said.
"Over the past decade, our five regional treaty allies have increased their military expenditures by double digits. That is what delivering on our shared vision looks like," Royal said.
Army Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, commander of the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and the U.S. Forces Korea, said U.S. allies are crucial. "The Korean War taught us that we must always be ready and forward postured with our allies," he said.
The general said one of his priorities is to strengthen the United States-South Korea alliance. "We must never take the alliance for granted.
"Our network of allies and partners with common interests on the Korean Peninsula represents our greatest asymmetric advantage," he added.