Tensions have ratcheted up in the Asia-Pacific region, and countries need to dial back on provocative acts to avoid the dangers of miscalculation, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during an interview here today.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told the Japanese television network NHK that “the region is less stable principally because of the actions of certain countries and their coercion and provocation in an attempt to solve territorial disputes.”
Dempsey is visiting Singapore to participate in the Shangri-La Dialogue regional security conference.
Though the United States takes no position on these territorial disputes, “we do have some definite thoughts on behaviors, and the behaviors have changed,” he said.
Two years ago, regional nations didn’t demonstrate their military power to pressurize what rightly is a diplomatic issue, the chairman said. “That dynamic has changed, and now there is military power being used. That’s not a positive outcome,” he said. “We have to confront the fact that that is a path that will inevitably lead to less stability and probably make a diplomatic solution far more complicated.”
The behaviors are provocative and unsettling to U.S. allies in the region, Dempsey said. “This is something we have to continue to discuss, to try to mitigate, like … the codes of behavior we’ve been discussing,” he added.
The United States has worked with individual countries and with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to establish these codes of behavior, but more needs to be done in the air domain, the chairman said. On May 25, Japan accused Chinese fighters of flying “dangerously close” to Japanese reconnaissance aircraft over a disputed area in the East China Sea.
Dempsey said this happens often to American aircraft as they conduct reconnaissance missions. “There are open lines to discuss such things,” the general said.
Dempsey discussed the dangers of miscalculation with Chinese Gen. Fang Fenghui, the chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, when Fang visited Washington on May 15. Both men said they want to establish rules of behavior for the air domain.
“We’ve already made rules for the maritime domain, and I do think it’s a worthwhile enterprise to seek agreements, because certainly we don’t want to have a miscalculation that puts us in a position where the conversation gets much more tense,” Dempsey said.
The chairman stressed that recent American moves to rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region are not in any way intended to offset or contain China. “Frankly, I think the Chinese have a different view of that, and I acknowledge that,” he added.
The United States has responsibilities to treaty allies in the region, Dempsey said, but there are many reasons for the United States to seek broader relationships with other nations.
“There are many areas of common interest for all the nations in this region, not the least of which is freedom of navigation and open access to markets and trade, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, piracy -- there’s plenty of things on which we ought to be broadening our engagement,” he said.
And that includes engagement with China, he said. The U.S. military-to-military relationship with China is developing, Dempsey said, and it will become more effective when it reaches farther down the ranks in both countries.
Partnerships are key to success for the United States, the nation’s top military officer said.
“The real strength of the U.S. armed forces is our own internal capabilities, but it is also the degree to which we are involved with, and bring capability and capacity to, multinational and multilateral venues such as NATO,” he said. “Most of our alliances in this part of the world tend to be bilateral, but where we can, we encourage multilateral exercises and engagements on issues of common interests.”