A U.S. navy F-18 Super Hornet takes off on the flight deck on the USS Nimitz, off the coast of Busan, South Korea, March 27, 2023.

WASHINGTON (VOA)—The top U.S military officer is warning of a growing arms race in the western Pacific, as nations become increasingly concerned about China’s military buildup in the region following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“There’s a really an underreported arms race going on in the western Pacific right now. These countries are arming themselves up, and they very much, with very few exceptions, want the United States there,” General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Australia this month unveiled a US$200 billion plan for nuclear-powered submarines. Japan has also increased its offensive capabilities and doubled its defense investments, all while announcing new deployments of U.S troops on Japan’s southern islands that will bring with them mobile anti-ship missiles meant to counter any first strike from Beijing.

Meanwhile, Beijing has asserted its desire to control access to the South China Sea and bring Taiwan under its control, by force if necessary. Milley said China was “trying to become the regional hegemon,” disadvantaging other countries like the Philippines as part of that effort.

“That’s why the secretary traveled to the Philippines. That’s why we’re looking at access basing and oversight. That’s why we’re looking at a re-posturing in the western Pacific. It is a design there to be forward deployed in order to deter armed conflict with a great power, great power being China in this case,” Milley said.

In February, the Philippines designated four additional bases for U.S forces to operate in. The announcement marked a sharp turn back toward the United States, after former Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte had distanced himself from Washington.

“Two years ago, we were about to get kicked out of the Philippines,” Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

The U.S has continued to expand its military partnerships with South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia and others in hopes of keeping international waterways open and building what officials, including Milley, have called a “strategic advantage over China.”

But Republican lawmakers Tuesday sharply critised the Pentagon’s proposed budget as inadequate, especially in the Pacific region.

“For the third year in a row, President [Joe] Biden has sent to Congress a budget request that cuts military spending amid a more dangerous and complex threat environment,” said the committee’s ranking member, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

“This year’s budget is the last one that funds capabilities that are likely to be fielded before 2027. That’s the year by which [Chinese President] Xi Jinping says he wants the People’s Liberation Army to be ready to take Taiwan. That makes our work here very urgent,” he warned.

Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska questioned the budget cuts at a time that Milley and Austin agreed was the most dangerous since World War II.

“This current budget shrinks the Army, shrinks the Navy, shrinks the Marine Corps. Doesn’t that embolden … Xi Jinping and Putin, not deter them?” asked Sullivan.

Milley said the budget represents “essentially a one-war strategy2 that focuses resources on the Navy and the Air Force, the two military branches the Pentagon says are most needed in a potential fight with China.

He said the Navy would indeed decrease its hull numbers in the short term in order to shed some ships that are “costing way more money just to repair than worthwhile,” but would submit a shipbuilding plan with the number of ships increasing “in the not too distant future” …PACNEWS

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