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New U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander Adm. Sam Paparo: China’s Actions ‘illegal, coercive, aggressive, and deceptive’

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In a powerful declaration that echoed across the waters of the Indo-Pacific, Admiral Samuel Paparo, the newly appointed commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), has starkly criticized China’s territorial ambitions as not merely overreaching but “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and deceptive.” This strong condemnation was voiced during a significant ceremony marking the change of command at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, emphasizing a pivotal moment not only in Admiral Paparo’s career but also in the geopolitical tensions simmering in the region.

China’s assertive claims, particularly epitomized by the “Nine-dash line,” attempt to demarcate sovereignty over almost the entirety of the South China Sea. This audacious boundary conflicts with the maritime rights of several Southeast Asian nations, setting the stage for international disputes and tensions. Notably, in July 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague overwhelmingly ruled against major aspects of China’s maritime claims, including the legality of the Nine-dash line and its extensive land reclamation activities, branding them unlawful. Despite this, the territorial disputes have persisted, with China continuing its activities in the region.

Admiral Paparo, in his remarks, did not mince words when he highlighted the deceptive nature of what is often termed “gray zone” tactics—ambiguous military and non-military maneuvers meant to alter the status quo without sparking an outright conflict. “My friend Gen. Brawner from the Republic of the Philippines … has renamed gray zone, which sounds otherwise benign and dull, into ICAD, which is illegal, coercive, aggressive and deceptive,” Paparo stated, aligning himself with this clearer, more direct terminology to shed light on the underlying intentions of such strategies.

The strategic importance of INDOPACOM under Admiral Paparo’s command is immense, overseeing a region stretching from Hawaii to India. This area forms the front line in the U.S. military’s strategy to deter any attempts by China to reshape the international order to its favor. Paparo firmly believes in the role of INDOPACOM in maintaining stability, stating, “Indo-Pacom, together with our partners, is positioned to deny and defend against attempts to break the peace accorded by the international rules-based order.”

The alliances and partnerships forged between the U.S. and various Indo-Pacific nations are crucial in this defensive posture. Admiral Paparo specifically highlighted the collaborative efforts and shared wisdom among allies, such as the Philippines, Australia, and Japan, all of whom have echoed similar concerns regarding China’s aggressive posturing in regional waters. These relationships are further solidified through defense agreements and joint military exercises, aimed at ensuring a collective readiness to uphold a “free and open Indo-Pacific”—a vision first articulated by the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and fervently supported by the U.S. and its allies.

While the goal is to resolve disputes peacefully, Admiral Paparo and his counterparts are acutely aware of the potential for conflict and are prepared to respond decisively if necessary. He articulated a dual approach to this challenge: “We’ll strive for the peaceful resolution of any crisis or conflict, but make no mistake … we will be ready to fight any adversary that threatens the peace, security, stability, and well-being of the nation and of our allies and partners.”

This readiness to defend against threats underscores the seriousness of the security challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region. It highlights the commitment of the United States and its allies to maintain not just regional stability but also the principles of international law and mutual respect among nations. Admiral Paparo’s assertive stance at the beginning of his tenure as the commander of INDOPACOM signals a determined and perhaps intensified focus on monitoring and countering China’s regional actions, ensuring that the vast waters of the Indo-Pacific remain navigable and free from coercive claims.

It seems that Paparo is a good choice for this position, provided his forces are not encumbered by Biden Administration incompetence. But God forbid that war should break out and U.S. forces are encumber by such incompetence.

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