On Thursday, the Department of Defense (DoD) praised the progress of security and deterrence capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region despite China’s concerning advancement pace in recent years.

Strengthening and Expanding

DoD officials expressed confidence that America will maintain its position as a dominant global superpower, highlighting initiatives launched in the last two years that have finally come to fruition.

Recently speaking at the Hudson Institute, Ely Ratner, the Assistant Defense Secretary for Indo-Pacific affairs, said that the US has successfully beefed up its regional presence.

According to Ratner, apart from providing the region with the country’s most sophisticated military capabilities, Washington also made promising progress in developing and maintaining bilateral relationships.

In a world of … a lot of challenges, I think the story of the US position in the region is the degree to which we are deepening our partnerships with our allies and partners, and the degree to which they’re investing in their own capabilities,” the Assistant Defense Secretary said.

The US and its regional allies and partners have been working hand-in-hand lately, especially after China’s increasing aggression in the Indo-Pacific—particularly in the South and East China Sea- ensuring airtight regional security and stability.

An exceptional regional collaboration, which has never been done before. Ratner praises such progressive initiatives, saying, “This is really news for optimism … And I think it is creating a more stable and enduring security environment, even as these challenges from [China] become more intense.”

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), The US Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, steams in formation with ships from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), Royal Australian Navy (RAN), and Indian Navy during Exercise Malabar 2022 in the Philippine Sea.

Regional Alliances

In contrast to Europe, the Indo-Pacific region lacks an intergovernmental military pact like NATO. Thus, the American mediation efforts and the voluntary cooperation of regional states are highly commendable.

Meanwhile, Lindsey W. Ford, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, said a “busy season” is expected next year for the agency as multilateral cooperation—including those in the works for decades—and network expansion materialize.

In the past year, some of the things that I think we’ve been most pleased about, is certainly the US, Australia, Japan, trilateral cooperation,” Ford said. “I think has been at the leading edge of what we are doing on the multilateral front. We’re looking at ways to integrate Japan into some of the US-Australia force posture work.”

Another trilateral grouping that made significant progress in recent years includes the alliance of the US, Japan, and South Korea, arming the two latter Asian countries to boost their strength and deterrence capabilities, this time against the provocations from North Korea.

The trilateral alliance between the US, Japan, and the Philippines has also been redefined to address China’s subjugations in the South China Sea. In addition, each state’s Army Chief will continue converging in the coming year to discuss regional security.

Nonetheless, the US has held trilateral talks with Australia and many other Oceania and Southeast Asian countries to develop a military alliance and improve domain awareness.

I think a lot of the work that you’ve heard for a very long time around the idea of greater multilateral cooperation is now really beginning to come to fruition in the Indo-Pacific,” Ford added.

Lastly, Ford gave an update on the current standing of the Quad strategic security dialogue (formally known as Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or QSD) formed between India, Japan, Australia, and the United States.

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We are particularly pleased that the Indo-Pacific maritime domain awareness initiative — which was something that was launched at the last Quad Summit — we see is exactly the kind of work that the Quad should be doing,” Ford said. “It is just focused on bringing practical public goods to the region.”

The dialogue was initiated in 2007 by the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It was instantaneously supported by Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and US Vice President Dick Cheney to counter China’s growing economic and military dominance in the region.

Continuing the base foundation of the Quad, involved states will focus on enhancing maritime space security in the region, particularly in Southeast Asia.

China’s Growing Defense Budget

China’s defense spending has been increasing in recent years as it continues to ramp up its military modernization. And figures on its spending might also double this year, which the country’s parliament spokesman stressed as “reasonable.”

On Saturday, Wang Chao, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, told reporters that Beijing’s military modernization budget is only appropriate as the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) increases and that this “will not pose a threat to any country.

While Wang did not disclose the numbers of China’s 2023 defense budget, the figures will soon be officially unveiled during the country’s annual meeting of parliament, which will take place on Sunday, according to Reuters.

Guess we will have to wait a bit to see how aggressive Beijing will be in beefing up its military this year.

What are your thoughts on China proposing to double its military spending budget?