Report: China’s presence in the Pacific may erode US influence

Chinese economic devt in NMI also a concern

Chinese presence in the Pacific may adversely affect U.S. influence in the region, according to a commission tasked with reviewing the U.S.-Chinese economic and security relations.

In a report dated June 14, 2018, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, or USCESRC, stated that Chinese presence in the Pacific region may be concerning for U.S. defense interests.

The report cited testimony by then-Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris in an April 2017 congressional hearing that American agreements with the Compact countries—the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau—also included assured access to the countries in a contingency situation.

“They also give the U.S. authority to grant or deny access to another nation’s military forces, which allows the U.S. to maintain a clear strategic line of communication across the Pacific,” said Harris, according to the commission report.

The report cited analysts who have raised concerns that China could “erode U.S. influence” in the Compact countries and the CNMI, which would have implications for U.S. military access in the region.

The report quoted Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, who believes that if China is to establish a long-term political foothold on the region, it could “persuade these states not to extend access to the U.S., as well as arrange for Chinese access,” the report quoted him as saying.

He reportedly noted that “Chinese access” does not necessarily mean bases, but rather surveillance and reconnaissance sites to monitor U.S. military facility and testing site activities.

The USCESRC was created by Congress to monitor and report on economic and national security concerns between the U.S. and China. This includes the monitoring of security and economic ties between the two nations.

Chinese economic development in NMI concerning

The Chinese economic development in the NMI also remains a concern for the commission, especially when the U.S. Department of Defense is seeking to redeploy 4,100 troops from Okinawa to Guam.

The U.S. is also reportedly planning to use Guam for training and military exercises and was noted to “likely be called upon” for contingencies in Asia.

“The rapid growth in Chinese investment and influx of Chinese tourists—bringing record economic growth to the CNMI—is also fueling opposition to DOD plans by business executives, local politicians, and residents,” the report noted.

“If Chinese activities deter the United States from carrying out its plans for the CNMI, it will contribute to China’s goal of weakening U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific,” it added.

Retired Lt. Gen. Wallace “Chip” Gregson, the former commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces-Pacific, was quoted by the report as saying that he believes China is seeking to control access and limit U.S. military presence through “influence operations based on suspect casino operations.”

“Energetic involvement by our law enforcement and financial agencies is needed to ensure these U.S. territories are not ripped away,” he reportedly said.

The report noted that a “potential Chinese military base or facility in the Pacific Islands could have implications for U.S. military presence and training in the Indo-Pacific.”

“Such development could expand China’s monitoring and surveillance capabilities in the region, helping Beijing mitigate U.S. military presence in the region. It could also present access challenges for Australia and New Zealand, key U.S. partners in the Pacific Islands region,” the report added.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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