Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific command, told reporters on Thursday that China’s new hypersonic technologies will need to be figured into calculating how to maintain a peaceful security environment.
China conducted its first test of an ultra-high speed missile vehicle earlier this month, representing a major step forward for China’s strategic nuclear missile programs.
Locklear said that although he did not see the Chinese test, he has "been told that they tested it," and that there is "credibility" in reports on the test.
"The Chinese, as other nations are, are pursuing hypersonic technologies," said Locklear. "This is just one of many, you know, highly technical militarized systems that whether the Chinese are developing them or we're developing them or Europeans are developing, that will continue to complicate the security environment with high-technology systems."
"We will have to figure them into the calculation of how we're going to maintain a peaceful security environment in the future," concluded Locklear.
Members of Congress expressed concern at China’s technological advancement, saying in a statement that the development "does nothing to support peaceful coexistence in the Pacific."
Locklear also commented on the USS Cowpens’ near collision with a Chinese naval vessel in the South China Sea. The incident marked the most dangerous military run-in between the United States and China in several years and is a sign of China's continued disire to drive the United States out of the region.
Locklear said that the incident should be characterized as "unnecessary" and "unprofessional" rather than "dangerous."
"At any point in time was the situation dangerous? I wasn't on the bridge of the ship, so I can't tell you how the seal felt about it. I would probably characterize it as more as unnecessary and probably more unprofessional."
Locklear added that with the growing number of navies operating, these sorts of incidents should be expected and highlight the importance of communication.
"We look at the growing number of navies that are operating and the growing number of security concerns that are in this region, we have to expect that militaries are going to have to encounter and operate around each other," said Locklear. "We have to expect that the U.S. and the Chinese navies are going to interact with each other. So this just highlights to both of us, to both the PLA and to the U.S. military, that we have to do better at being able to communicate with each other."
Locklear added that the United States has had defense officials in Beijing for the last two days, and that he is certain that the Cowpens incident has been discussed.
"My hope is that we will learn to interact—continue to learn, and to progress in the professionalism that we exhibit towards each other. This is the best way forward," said Locklear.
China blamed the United States for the incident, and said that if ships continue to hover in "China’s doorway," then confrontation is bound to happen.
"The U.S. clearly blocked China’s doorstep, and the U.S. warship’s arrival near the Liaoning for reconnaissance was no longer so-called ‘innocent passage’, and it constituted a threat to China’s national security," wrote the state-run Global Times, which is frequently used by China’s military to send political signals.
"If the U.S. Navy and Air Force are always hovering around China’s doorway, ‘confrontation’ is destined to happen."
China recently claimed maritime sovereignty over two-thirds of the South China Sea and ordered all foreign fishing vessels out of the South China Sea until they received approval from regional authorities.
Locklear also downplayed the Chinese decision late last year to impose a surprise air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea without consulting the United States in advance, or for weeks following the action.
"The fact that they established an ADIZ, I think, is of less concern to me than the way that it was done," said Locklear. "It would have been better if it had been announced and had been discussed with the neighbors and with the partners in the region."
"I don't think we were necessarily surprised by the ADIZ, as you—I think that's a mischaracterization. … I think we were a little bit surprised by the way it was announced and the manner it was—you know, how fast it was sprung on the region."