Esper Warns of China’s ‘Self-Serving’ Behavior During Pacific Trip

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper continued his verbal offensive against China, accusing the country of “self-serving” behavior and a disregard for international laws, the same day the Chinese military fired medium-range ballistic missiles during a military exercise.

China is undergoing an aggressive modernization plan to “achieve a world-class military by the middle of the century,” which will embolden Beijing’s expansionist plans and provocative behavior, particularly in the disputed South and East China Seas and “anywhere else the Chinese government has deemed critical to its interests,” Esper said during an Aug. 26 speech at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Esper is traveling through the Indo-Pacific, including a visit to the Rim of the Pacific exercise, U.S. forces in Guam, and the tiny island nation of Palau. During the speech, Esper highlighted U.S. modernization efforts and outreach to allies.

“As we continue to implement our Indo-Pacific strategy, the United States needs our allies and partners to contribute in ways that are fair and equitable,” Esper said. “We need them to pursue close alignment in policies that uphold a free and open order, and reject decisions that would benefit malign actors to our collective detriment. And we need them to make the necessary investments to improve their capabilities so that, together, we can safeguard our interests, strengthen our readiness, and defend our sovereignty and values.”

Esper highlighted about $160 billion in U.S. foreign military sales to Indo-Pacific allies, including F-35s to Japan, Seahawk and Apache helicopters to India, and F-16s and M1 Abrams tanks to Taiwan. Several U.S. modernization efforts include equipment that will be vital in the region, including the B-21 bomber, P-8 maritime surveillance plane, underwater and surface unmanned vehicles, long-range precision munitions, integrated air and missile defense, and a new class of Navy frigates, Esper said.

During his upcoming visit to Guam, Esper said he will see some of these capabilities there, along with the Air Force’s current Bomber Task Force of B-1B Lancers at Andersen Air Force Base “that prepare us to defend the Indo-Pacific at a moment’s notice,” he said.

The trip comes as China is showing some of its capabilities in a large-scale exercise. On Aug. 26, the Chinese military fired four medium-range ballistic missiles that landed in the South China Sea, according to the Defense Department. The exercise over “disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to easing tensions and maintaining stability,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

“This military exercise is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea,” the Pentagon said. “The PRC’s actions stand in contrast to its pledge to not militarize the South China Sea and are in contrast to the United States’ vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, in which all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms.”

Earlier in the week, the Chinese government accused the U.S. of flying a U-2 surveillance plane over a no-fly zone during its exercises. Pacific Air Forces countered the claim in a statement, saying a U-2 sortie flew in the Indo-Pacific “and within the accepted international rules and regulations governing aircraft flights. Pacific Air Forces personnel will continue to fly and operate anywhere international law allows, at the time and tempo of our choosing.”