Pentagon chief Mark Esper arrived in Asia on Saturday to warn China that the US is now free to compete with its military arsenal in the region. US Prime Minister Esper for the past seven months has said he has chosen Asia as the goal of his first trip since taking his oath on July 23 to “reaffirm our commitment to the region, reassure our allies and partners”.
He warned at the beginning that the United States wants to rapidly deploy in Asia new medium-range conventional weapons, now that they are no longer bound by the INF Treaty.
“We would like to do it as soon as possible,” said Esper on the plane that was taking him to Sydney, the first leg of a week-long tour of Asia that will also take him to New Zealand, Japan. , in Mongolia and South Korea.
“I would prefer to count in months,” he told reporters who accompanied him on his tour. “But these things tend to take longer than expected.”
He did not specify where the United States intended to position these armaments. “I would not want to speculate, because (…) these are the kinds of things we always discuss with the allies”.
Accusing Russia of violating it for years, the United States withdrew on Friday the INF disarmament treaty, concluded during the Cold War between Washington and Moscow to completely prohibit intermediate-range land-based missiles (from 500 to 5,500 km).
- – “Corrective actions” –
Washington is now free to compete with China, whose arsenal is largely made up of weapons of the type prohibited by the INF Treaty, which Beijing has never been a signatory.
The rise of China in the region, where the Chinese army has seized islands disputed in the South China Sea, worries the traditional allies of the United States in the region, such as Australia and New Caledonia. Zealand.
It has also led other countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam or the Philippines to seek protection from the United States against Beijing.
Esper noted that China should not be surprised by US plans.
“It should not be a surprise, because we’ve been talking about it for a while,” he said. “I would like to point out that 80% of their arsenal is made up of INF weapons, so it should come as no surprise that we want similar capabilities.”
- “China should not be surprised,” he said.
However, Esper assured that the United States was not embarking on a new arms race: “The traditional meaning of an arms race is understood in a nuclear context”. “At present, we do not plan to manufacture nuclear-type INF weapons, it is the Russians who have developed weapons that violate the treaty and are likely to be nuclear warheads.”
“What I see is that we are taking corrective action to develop the capacity we need in the European theater and here in the Indo-Pacific theater,” he added.
Esper returns to Sydney with US Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo to attend a meeting with their Australian Defense and Foreign Affairs counterparts on Sunday.