China, which already is a "regional hegemon", is now aiming to be a "dominant world power", America's defence secretary-designate retired Gen Lloyd Austin has told US lawmakers, citing Beijing's recent "coercive behaviour" in the region and around the globe.
The US and China are currently engaged in a bitter confrontation over various issues, including trade, the origins of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the communist giant's aggressive military moves in the disputed South China Sea and human rights.
"They're (China) already a regional hegemon and I think their goal is to be a dominant world power. And they are working across the spectrum to compete with us in a number of areas and it will take a whole of government approach to push back on their efforts in a credible way, Austin told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Austin to be his defence secretary.
If confirmed by the Senate, the 67-year-old retired army general would be the first African-American to lead the Pentagon. Christopher Charles Miller is currently the acting defence secretary.
"Not to say that we won't see things down the road that are in our best interest that we can cooperate with China on. But we do things that are in our best interest. But certainly, some of the things that we've seen from them in recent past in terms of coercive behaviour in the region and around the globe tend to make us believe that they really want to be a dominant world power," Austin said.
China and India have been locked in a military standoff along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh since May last year. Several rounds of talks between the two countries to resolve the standoff have not yielded any concrete outcome.
China is also engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
China claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea.
Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims.
Beijing has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region. Both areas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are also vital to global trade.
Acknowledging that China is the most significant challenge for the US going forward, he told lawmakers that the Pentagon is prepared to meet any challenge.
"We continue to present a credible deterrent to China or any other aggressor who would want to take us on. And convince them that that would be a really bad idea," Austin said.
If we are called upon to conduct operations against a near peer such as China or Russia, it's a different type of engagement. And we need different capabilities; we need the operational concepts that can employ those capabilities...we'll be required to understand what's going on the battlefield much better, much faster, to be able to decide a lot quicker, and then to be able to act a lot quicker, he said.
China, Austin said, presents the most significant threat going forward because it is ascending. Russia is also a threat but it's in decline.
"It (Russia) can still do a great deal of damage...and it's a country that we have to maintain some degree of focus on, but China is the pacing threat," he said.
The issue of China though is very complex, he noted.
"While I have the military component of this problem set, it's a whole of government approach because China -- it looks to compete with us along a spectrum of activities. You know with economic and IT and cyber and space and other domains.
"The US will have the right experts, will have the right capabilities and plans and operational concepts that are required to make sure that the country's efforts are effective to deter China and any other aggressor, Austin added.
Responding to a question, he said America's efforts will be to ensure that it does everything to make sure that China doesn't invade Taiwan.
"Our support for Taiwan has been rock solid over the years. It has been bipartisan support," Austin said.
Noting that China, of late, has modernised its military, Austin told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the US has "seen it employ aggressive, in some cases, coercive behaviour against our allies in the region. We've seen it do a number of things that tend to make us believe that China really wants to be the preeminent power in the world in the not-too-distant future".
Because of its "desires" and "worldview", China is "clearly a competitor that we have to make sure that we begin to check their aggression", he asserted.