Sea of Influence

The United States is not engaged in an arms race with China in the area around the South China Sea, but there’s a competition under way for influence and access there, said Gen. Herbert Carlisle, Pacific Air Forces commander. “I don’t call it an arms race. I would call it more of an influence race and an access race,” said Carlisle on Sept. 19 during the four-star forum at AFA’s Air & Space Conference in National Harbor, Md. “Clearly, [China] is in a position of a regional power, and a rising world power, versus the United States as an existing world power,” he said. US Pacific Command works hard to stay engaged with partners and allies in that region “to maintain those relationships and that influence,” while realizing that these nations also have a relationship with China, said Carlisle. That’s an “extremely complex” undertaking, he said. While the United States considers operating in the international waters of the South China Sea and the airspace above it to be freedom of navigation, the Chinese regard it as “containment” and attempting “to infringe upon our backyard,” he said.