Top U.S. officials are warning that countries around the world can no longer hide from the ramifications of an ever more ambitious and aggressive China.
And they say Beijing is growing ever more comfortable flexing its military might farther away from home.
"We have a taste of what it means to be led by China or to be deeply influenced by China," Navy Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, the director for intelligence for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told a virtual conference Tuesday.
"You're going to find a very global, expeditionary Chinese military that will be there to step in anywhere they think China's interests are jeopardized," he said. "Anywhere globally, China feels like its development interests are threatened, what you'll find is that they will end up sending out the PLA [People's Liberation Army] more and more often."
Studeman is not the first U.S. military official to warn about the threat from China.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has repeatedly called China the "pacing threat" for the Pentagon. U.S. Central Command officials have likewise warned about how China is increasingly trying to wield influence in the Middle East. And U.S. Southern Command has raised concerns about Chinese activity in Central and South America.
Even U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to rally global support to push back against Beijing.
"How the United States, Europe and Asia work together to secure the peace and defend our shared values and advance our prosperity across the Pacific will be among the most consequential efforts we undertake," he told world leaders at last month's virtual Munich Security Conference.
"The evolution of Xi Jinping's #China over the last 6 or 7 years has been a very sharp wake-up call" per @CIA nominee Burns "It's the kind of aggressive, undisguised ambition & assertiveness that I think has made very clear the nature of the adversary & rival that we face"— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) February 24, 2021
But Studeman, of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, on Tuesday said U.S. officials believe China has established a clear pattern of how it will seek to assert its dominance based on developments with Hong Kong and Taiwan.
"What you've seen is essentially the strangulation of freedom, the death of autonomy," the top intelligence officer said.
"That's occurred because of how the Chinese have crushed dissent through structural, legal security measures that have essentially clamped down," he added. "That's the China of today. That's what you get."
Studeman also described how China has steadily increased pressure on Taiwan, flying drones and what he described as special mission aircraft into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone on what has become a daily basis.
The goal, he said, was to stress the Taiwanese military and to "establish a new norm with their military presence around Taiwan."
The U.S. is also seeing signs of increased Chinese military activity around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, described by Studeman as a "creeping presence" designed to slowly establish control of the area, while bolstering its military activities in the South China Sea.
And there are concerns that current efforts to push back, like recent, so-called freedom of navigation operations, have having little impact at the moment on Chinese decision-making.
#USSRussell sails by the Spratly Islands in the #SouthChinaSea Wednesday, per @US7thFleet— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) February 17, 2021
"This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms & lawful uses of the sea...by challenging unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by #China, #Vietnam & #Taiwan"
"They're not backing down," Studeman said, calling China's military assertiveness under President Xi Jinping "alarming."
Studeman's comments come just a day after the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command issued a warning of his own about an undaunted China.
"The greatest danger we face in the Indo-Pacific is the erosion of conventional deterrence vis-a-vis China," INDOPACOM Commander Admiral Philip Davidson told the same virtual conference Monday.
"Without a valid and convincing conventional deterrent, China will be emboldened," Davidson said. "We must convince Beijing that the cost to achieve its objectives by military force are simply too high."
The Pentagon on Monday convened its first meeting of the newly created China Task Force, charged with reviewing Washington's current China strategy and making recommendations within the next four months.