The US Navy admiral nominated to be America’s next ambassador to Australia has warned that the South China Sea could be a flashpoint for war.
Harry Harris has told Congress that the USA must prepare for the possibility of war with China, saying Beijing’s “intent is crystal clear” to dominate the strategic waters. He also warned that Chinese military might could soon rival American power “across almost every domain”.
Harris, soon to retire as the head of US Pacific Command in Hawaii, told the House armed services committee that the US and its allies should be wary of Beijing’s military expansionism in the region. He also condemned China’s foreign influence operations, predatory economic behaviour and coercion of regional neighbours such as the Philippines.
“China’s intent is crystal clear. We ignore it at our peril,” he said. “I’m concerned China will now work to undermine the international rules-based order.”
He also warned of a “cult of personality” developing around Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Admiral Harris, the son of an American naval officer and a Japanese mother, has been nominated by President Trump as the next ambassador to Australia. His appointment must be confirmed by the Senate.
Australia has been without a US ambassador since John Berry departed in September 2016.
Harris said he was alarmed by China’s construction of military bases on seven disputed islands in the South China Sea that the Philippines and other neighbouring countries lay territorial claims to.
In 2016, the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague backed the Philippines, saying there was no legal basis for Beijing’s unilateral claim to sovereignty over the vast bulk of the South China Sea.
However, despite the ruling, Chinese military build-up has continued apace.
“China’s impressive military build-up could soon challenge the United States across almost every domain,” Harris said.
In a separate answer, he said of the risk of conflict with China: “as far as the idea of deterrence and winning wars, I’m a military guy. And I think it’s important you must plan and resource to win a war at the same time you work to prevent it.
“At the end of the day the ability to wage war is important or you become a paper tiger. I’m hopeful that it won’t come to a conflict with China, but we must all be prepared for that if it should come to that.”