U.S. Navy Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, during a ceremony at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, on July 12, 2023.

U.S. Navy Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, during a ceremony at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, on July 12, 2023. (Haley Fourmet Gustavsen/U.S. Marine Corps)

(Tribune News Service) — China is rapidly becoming more aggressive in its rhetoric and actions across Asia, the outgoing head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said, as Beijing turned up the heat on Washington just before Secretary of State Tony Blinken heads to the country for a high-stakes visit.

“We all need to understand that it’s moving very fast,” Adm. John Aquilino told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday. “The buildup of military power despite a bad economy, the increased narrative of all things inside the 10-dash line are Chinese sovereign territory, then the actions that are going toward enforcement.”

His comments came as the U.S. seeks to build up a network of relationships with partners across the region to counter China — a move that has been condemned by Beijing. At the same time, Blinken is set to use his first trip to China since mid-2023 to convey U.S. concerns about Chinese companies providing support to Russia’s war machine and seek to avoid derailing Washington’s ties with Beijing.

In a Foreign Ministry statement released Tuesday, China launched its harshest attack to date on U.S. complaints about industrial overcapacity, signaling Blinken may be in for some difficult conversations during his visit that runs from Wednesday to Friday.

Aquilino, who is preparing to step down after serving three years in the regional role overseeing 380,000 personnel, said China’s actions in the South China Sea were dangerous and destabilizing. Tensions have grown around the Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippines maintains a grounded World War II-era ship and Chinese vessels have used water cannons to block Philippine military missions that rotate and resupply troops on the vessel.

He also criticized China for “an increasingly aggressive campaign plan of coercion and pressure,” around Taiwan, including increased maritime patrols and continued crossing of a central line meant to prevent miscalculations. Blinken is also likely to reiterate U.S. support for Taiwan before Lai Ching-te’s inauguration as president in May, which could prompt a response from Beijing.

China lashed out at Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida following his visit to Washington this month, where he bolstered ties with the U.S. and took part in the first trilateral summit with the Philippines. Beijing’s military also criticized “a certain non-regional country” for building “small cliques,” which it said were “irresponsible and extremely dangerous.”

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