How far can US go to scout for military bases closer to China?
Published: May 18, 2021 08:32 PM
Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

According to media reports, to prepare for great-power competition against China, Washington is keenly looking to enhance its footprint in the Indo-Pacific region. It is cultivating and strengthening partnerships with key Southeast Asian players and "scouting for more military bases closer to China." 

In a webinar hosted by the Atlantic Council on May 10, US Acting Army Secretary John Whitley spoke of the US Army's trust-building efforts in the Indo-Pacific with countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and India. Whitley said these efforts in the long term could lead to more access, basing and overflight rights, according to a recent report by Nikkei.

Some Western analyses hold that "China's belligerent attitude toward its neighbors in the South China Sea and surrounding maritime areas has riled many nations," and "have only helped the US gain more friends in the Indo-Pacific which is now attempting to have a dominant hand at undermining any Chinese misadventure in the region." 

Such a view is shifting the blame on China's so-called belligerent attitude in order to justify the US' endeavors of seeking more military bases overseas. The fact is: The US is actively seeking more military bases to expand its military advantage over China.

Washington now thinks it doesn't have enough forward bases. It fears that its overseas military assets can be eliminated on one blow. Therefore it wants to build up its military bases in more countries to make sure that won't happen.

In addition, by scouting for more military bases in countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and India, the US hopes to pull them into its anti-China alliance, particularly in terms of military matters. 

Whitley emphasized that Washington is talking to Indonesia about how the US might be able to assist Indonesia build a combat training center. He also noted that the US has ongoing engagements in Thailand with Strykers, and have various promising forms of assistance in Vietnam and India. These countries need to develop normal military exchanges and cooperation with the US. But they are not willing to treat China as their adversary to help achieve the US' end-goal. Both Indonesia and Thailand, for instance, traditionally have friendly relations with China. And certainly Vietnam does not want its relations with China to deteriorate.

India will be a bit different. Washington has been making efforts to woo in New Delhi. If successful, it will be more effective for the US to contain China in the latter's maritime lifelines - especially around the Indian Ocean. From there, Washington can threaten China's national security on its southwestern border. Therefore, Washington has been attempting to upgrade its relations with New Delhi from a quasi-alliance into a de facto military alliance. By exploiting border tensions between China and India, the US has repeatedly ramped up its voice of "China threat" theory, and roped in India to become its new ally. But India hopes to become an independent military power. New Delhi is clearly aware that once it becomes Washington' military ally, it will completely subject to the US wishes. Currently, India is hesitant toward US' wooing.

As a result, it is not evident why these countries would offer the US military bases. These countries have their own strategic considerations. If they host US military bases, and even use them directing at China, they will draw fire upon themselves. They will have to think twice and try to avoid any negative impact on themselves. 

Although some of these countries have disputes and areas of friction with China in some respects, they do not regard China as an imaginary enemy. Nor do they have the will to gang up with the US and openly confront China in a hostile manner. They will be cautious. 

Yet it should be noted that the strengthening of US military partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region does pose some pressure on China. A belligerent US will only pose a huge threat to regional, and even global, peace and stability.

Any attempt by the US to incite and utilize China's neighbors to stir up troubles for China will not easily be carried out as Washington wishes. China is constantly upgrading its comprehensive national strength and military capabilities. It has the determination and confidence to defend its national territorial sovereignty, development interests, and national security with practical actions. 

The author is a Chinese military expert and commentator. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn