National Security

Esper Outlines Pentagon’s China Plans in Hawaii Speech

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks about airstrikes by the U.S. military in Iraq and Syria, at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper / Reuters

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper outlined his department’s plans to brush back China in a Wednesday speech.

Addressing the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Esper said China refuses to "honor the commitments it made to the international community, including promises to safeguard the autonomy of Hong Kong and not to militarize features in the South China Sea." He outlined steps the Pentagon had taken to answer the Chinese threat.

Esper noted that, abiding by the 2018 National Defense Strategy, he commissioned a new defense policy office focused on China, while also employing a new China strategy management group to integrate operations in the Pentagon. The Department of Defense has also collaborated extensively with allies in the region.

"These efforts are critical for preparing our military’s future leaders for tomorrow’s challenges," Esper said.

Citing information warfare, aggression in the South China Sea, and debt-backed diplomatic leverage, Esper said Beijing poses a stark challenge to America and its allies. However, he noted the indispensable advantage Americans have over the Chinese due to the alliance system Washington orchestrates.

"Our robust network of allies and partners remains the enduring asymmetric advantage we have over near-peer rivals, namely China, that attempt to undermine and subvert the rules-based order to advance their own interests, often at the expense of others," Esper said.

The Pentagon is making strengthening alliances with Indo-Pacific partners a top priority. Through improved arms sales programs, Washington now sends roughly half of its military hardware projects to Indo-Pacific countries, primarily to Taiwan and India. Meanwhile, the administration has doubled down on cooperation with Australia, Singapore and other ASEAN countries to brush back Beijing.

Such moves also coincide with increases to the defense budget, aimed at promoting America’s readiness and response time to issues in the Indo-Pacific region. Such operational upgrades may also attract new interest from allies and their growing concern over China, especially as Washington continues to preach freedom of navigation in the region.

"We will secure freedom and property for future generations, much like we did 75 years ago," Esper concluded.