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US Indo-Pacific Command head shares concerns over China military build-up, intent

Speaking at an event organised by the Observer Research Foundation, also attended by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Aquilino, in reply to a question on China acquiring more nuclear arsenal, said he didn’t specifically look at that threat.

ON A three-day visit to India, Commander of America’s Indo-Pacific Command Admiral John Aquilino noted Wednesday that China’s military build-up is the largest by a country since the Second World War,. and that the lack of clarity over its intent causes concern.

Speaking at an event organised by the Observer Research Foundation, also attended by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Aquilino, in reply to a question on China acquiring more nuclear arsenal, said he didn’t specifically look at that threat. “What I would look at is the entire Chinese way forward with regard to military expansion…. the largest military build-up in history since WW2, both conventional and nuclear, in all domains.”

Apart from Rawat, Aquilino met Army Chief General M M Naravane, Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during the course of the day.

“We continue to see that words from the PLA (China’s army) do not always match the deeds. It is one of the reasons that we are concerned,” Aquilino said, adding “the real question is not why, but what they intend to do with” their military might.

Pointing out the deterrent capability of nuclear arsenal, Rawat said India was “concerned about what is happening anywhere in the region” and developing capabilities accordingly, and that not just China, “even our western neighbour (Pakistan) has nuclear weapon systems”.

Rawat also asserted that India remained confident of “dealing with both the adversaries” in the conventional domain, adding that nuclear weapons “will only come into being if your conventional deterrence fails”. He also talked about developing Naval strength as China works on aircraft carriers, adding Beijing would try to foray beyond its immediate waters due to its aspirations of being a global power.

Acknowledging China’s growing naval capabilities, Aquilino mentioned cyber threat as another area of concern.

Both spoke about the importance of regular engagement and operations, at bilateral or multilateral levels. For this, they mentioned the necessity of commonality in equipment as well as interoperability.

Saying “coordination across Quad nations, at least from a military perspective, happens every day”, Aquilino said partnership with India was “critical because we are like-minded nations”, and shared values for a rules-based international order.

Calling Indo-Pacific region the “most consequential region for our future”, he said it had “the most challenging security concerns” due to threats to freedom of navigation for all. Aquilino also mentioned “challenges Indians specifically are seeing with regards to sovereignty on the Line of Actual Control” in another mention of China, as well as Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong and pressure on Taiwan.

“We will continue to operate in the Pacific, to ensure that all nations continue to share prosperity and security,” Aqulinio said, adding, “We continue to prove, there is no better friend or ally than the United States and there will be no worst adversary if it gets to that.”

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