US command take on sharp tone over China’s troubling actions

US command rites take on sharp tone over China’s ‘troubling actions’

/ 05:30 AM May 05, 2024

US command rites take on sharp tone over China’s ‘troubling actions’

Samuel Paparo —AFP

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii—US Navy Adm. Samuel Paparo on Friday took the reins of the American military command responsible for checking the rise of China, mincing no words in criticizing Beijing’s “troubling actions” and “rapid buildup of forces” in the Indo-Pacific region.

Paparo headed the US Pacific Fleet for three years before taking over the US Indo-Pacific Command (Indopacom), whose area of concern covers 36 nations including China. He succeeded Adm. John Aquilino who was retiring after more than 40 years of military service.


US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III presided over the change-of-command ceremony held at a pier overlooking the USS Missouri and USS Arizona Memorial, with the presidents of Micronesia and Palau among the hundreds of guests.


The Inquirer was among the journalists at the event as part of a reporting tour hosted by the US Embassy in Manila.

“Our world faces a complex problem set in the troubling actions of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and its rapid buildup of forces. We must be ready to answer the PRC’s increasingly intrusive and expansionist claims in the Indo-Pacific region,” Paparo said in his speech.

‘Ready to fight’

“Some call it the gray zone. My friend, General Brawner from the Republic of the Philippines, has a phrase called Icad. He has renamed the gray zone, which sounds otherwise benign and dull, into Icad—which is illegal, coercive, aggressive and deceptive,” he said, referring to Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., who was also in attendance.

Gray zone, as defined by the US Army’s Special Operations Command, refers to “activities, actions or conflict between the space of peace and war” and, in this particular case, to China’s activities to flex its muscles short of a full-blown war.

Tensions persist between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea—part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone where China makes sweeping claims.

Last week, Chinese coast guard ships fired water cannons at two vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc. A 2016 arbitral ruling voided China’s expansive claims, including over Panatag, but Beijing has refused to recognize the decision.


“Indopacom, together with our partners, is positioned to deny and defend against attempts to break the peace accorded by the international rules-based order,” Paparo said.

“We will be ready to fight any adversary that threatens the peace, security, stability and well-being of [our] nation and of our allies and partners,” he added.

‘Autocratic vision’

In his remarks, Austin said the PRC remains his department’s “pacing challenge,” even as North Korea, Russia and violent extremist groups also threaten security in the region.

“The PRC is the only country with both the will—and, increasingly, the capacity—to dominate the Indo-Pacific and to reshape the global order to suit its autocratic vision,” he said.

“The People’s Republic of China continues to engage in increasingly coercive behavior. And we can see that across the Taiwan Strait, in the East and South China Seas, among the Pacific Island countries, along the Line of Actual Control with India, and more,” Austin said, adding that Indopacom “has risen to meet the moment, together with [its] allies and partners.”

He also cited the ongoing “Balikatan” in the Philippines, the largest annual military exercises between Filipino and American forces.

Austin described Paparo as “exactly the right leader for this moment and this mission,” adding that Indopacom’s mission is “at the heart of American security in the 21st century.”

‘Top Gun’

Like his predecessor, Paparo is a naval aviator and graduate of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as “Top Gun”—a term now made famous by a Tom Cruise blockbuster movie.

Paparo has flown over 6,000 hours in the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle and F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets, and over 1,000 carrier landings.

He also used to head the US 5th Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain.

Austin thanked Aquilino for his leadership during “a decisive time for our defense strategy,” citing among his accomplishments the deepening partnerships across the region, the stationing of the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment in Japan, expanding access to four new sites in the Philippines under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and the distribution of 130 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the Indo-Pacific.

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“It will be the first time I’ve slept in three years but I’ll sleep soundly knowing that Pappy is at the controls … and that the warfighters of this theater will continue the mission,” Aquilino said in his farewell speech, calling Paparo by his nickname.

TAGS: China, US

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