Defense Secretary Hits Chinese Aggression

Beijing’s sea, cyber, and space activities among top security challenges

Ash Carter
Ash Carter / AP
• March 2, 2016 5:00 am


Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday criticized China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and warned of Chinese threats in cyber space and in outer space.

Carter identified Chinese militarization in the South China Sea, as well as that country’s participation in cyber attacks, espionage, and space weapons activities as one of five major security threats facing the Pentagon in the months ahead.

The defense secretary said the Asia Pacific region is the "single most consequential region for America’s future, where China is rising."

"We welcome its rise, and its inclusion in this architecture, but we do not welcome aggressive behavior," he said in a speech to the Commonwealth Club.

China was named as one of five security challenges. The others are a revanchist Russia, a provocative North Korea, a destabilizing Iran, and the terrorism being pushed by ISIS.

However, China garnered the most attention in the secretary’s remarks.

"We don’t desire conflict with either country," Carter said, adding that the United States prefers to work with different nations. "But we also cannot blind ourselves to their apparent goals and actions."

Carter, in the speech, appealed to nearby Silicon Valley to assist the Pentagon and military in developing innovative and high technology systems that will help advanced U.S. interests. A total of $71.8 billion will be spent in the next year on research and development of new capabilities.

The figure is double what Intel, Apple, and Google spent on research and development last year combined, Carter said.

The funds will be spent on beefing up security against cyber attacks, new underwater warfare capabilities, and new hypersonic missiles that fly at over five times the speed of sound, or more than 3,800 miles per hour.

New research will be used to develop artificial intelligence, as well as autonomous vehicles, weapons, and robotics.

The development investment seeks "new strategic approaches to preventing and winning conflicts against 21st century threats," Carter said.

The build up is geared toward promoting the security, stability, and prosperity of Asia in the face of increasing aggressiveness from China, the defense chief said.

"In these three critical domains—the oceans, the Internet, and outer space—continuing to ensure the free movement of information, goods, and services will require the private sector and DoD to work together," Carter said.

In Asia, the Pentagon is spending $425 million over the next four years on a maritime security initiative in Southeast Asia, where China has been building up disputed islands and is now placing military forces on the islands and threatening freedom of navigation.

Nearly 30 percent of world trade passes through the South China Sea annually, including some $1.2 trillion in goods bound for the United States.

The threats to sea lanes and "militarization" by China of islands there, including China’s recent steps to place anti-aircraft missiles and warplanes on the islands, has "deeply" worried nations in the region,

"These activities have the potential to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states," Carter said. "China must not pursue militarization in the South China Sea. Specific actions will have specific consequences."

He did not elaborate on what the consequences would be.

China and the United States have been at odds over Beijing’s claims to control 90 percent of the sea, and two U.S. warship passes have come within 12 miles of disputed islands.

China called the warship visits by the destroyers USS Lassens and USS Curtis Wilbur "military provocations."

Carter repeated U.S. assertions that the waters and airspace are part of the international commons and said the U.S. military would "continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all over the world because the maritime domain must always be open and free to all."

To step up the U.S. military presence in Asia, the Pentagon is spending $8 billion next year to increase undersea and anti-submarine forces, including new undersea drones. Surface warships also are being added.

On cyber space, Carter said the Pentagon is spending $35 billion over the next five years to bolster cyber security and cyber warfare capabilities.

The defense of cyber space is "one way the American military is helping protect U.S. interests in cyberspace and preserve access to a free, open, and secure Internet, so businesses can continue to innovate and individuals can continue to interact without having to live under any threat," Carter said.

Carter said both China and Russia are seeking "absolute government control of the Internet" and promoting anti-access policies such as China’s Great Firewall, and state-sponsored cyber theft, including theft of intellectual property, cyber espionage, and also cybercrime."

"Just last week, China’s government further restricted foreign companies from publishing and distributing online content in China, and made clear that state media would speak for the party’s will alone," Carter said. "We’ve seen that China aims to, as one news headline put it last year, ‘rewrite the rules of the global Internet,’ limiting the access their 1 billion-plus citizens have to an open society."

Beijing also is demanding that all new technologies include digital back doors, "forcing the world to operate, and innovate, on China’s terms. That’s not right," he said.

The United States wants the Internet to remain free, open, secure, and prosperous, he noted, adding that both government and private industry can work together to secure information networks against cyber threats.

The defense secretary sidestepped questions about the use of encryption by Apple and FBI efforts to access a terrorist’s iPhone, but said encryption is vital to the military to protect fighter jets and sensor networks. Encryptions "allows us to surprise our adversaries, and it lets our people deployed around the world communicate securely with their families back home—from sailors aboard aircraft carriers to soldiers in Afghanistan," he said.

Space also has become a new emerging market as private companies move into space launch and commercial imaging and small satellite deployments.

China has damaged the space environment by creating some 3,000 pieces of dangerous floating debris as the result of an anti-satellite missile test that destroyed a weather satellite in 2007.

"The remnants of that satellite are still there, and will remain for over a century—just as 100 years after the battle of Verdun, French farmers still encounter unexploded ordnance in their fields," Carter said. "A kinetic battle in space could leave behind a legacy that would last far longer, and make this common domain hazardous for commercial applications for generations. And make no mistake, both Russia and China have developed such anti-satellite systems."

For the fiscal 2017 budget, the Pentagon is spending more than $22 billion on addressing space threats.

The Pentagon is responsible for protecting space assets and ensuring that the space domain is free for both security and commercial use.

"We believe strong rules of the road that grow out of commercial and civil interest in space will benefit all nations," Carter said. "They will propel American space entrepreneurship, which directly benefits national security, and they will allow us to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable behavior in space."

China is developing several types of space weapons, including ground-launched anti-satellite missiles, ground lasers, electronic jammers, and small satellites capable of grabbing and smashing orbiting satellites.

Published under: Ash Carter, China, Iran, ISIS, North Korea, Russia