The United States’ most significant challenge in the 21st century is the strategic rivalry with the Peoples’ Republic of China in the Indo-Pacific region. With the PRC’s “One China” policy stating that Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, a clash over the island could become the culminating issue leading to world conflict, if not addressed in an appropriate manner.

China’s globalization, border expansion and aggressive actions are responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars in defense spending among Indo-Pacific nations and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization alliance. China’s power has grown to the point where it challenges the borders of other countries’ sovereignty, while restricting them socioeconomically with the accumulation of money and natural resources. This is due to the weakening of Indo-Pacific alliances, which allows China to develop a system that exploits divisions among non-SEATO countries in the region.

China’s general assembly session has made the industrialization of defense spending and armed forces one of the 14th five-year plan’s main goals, emphasizing that economic prosperity should go hand in hand with bolstering the military.

“By the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2027, the centennial goal of military development should be achieved, and by 2035 the country should achieve modernization of the national defense and armed forces,” according to Global Security report citing a Chinese plenary session.

The U.S. as well as its allies and partners must make a significant effort to counter China’s global rise, military expansion and infringement on regional sovereignty. NATO, of which the United States is a member, and SEATO are the only entities with the potential and legal capacity to limit China’s influence. One of many deterrence solutions is to increase defense spending, enable diplomatic channels, and encourage allies and non-allies to do the same rather than turning to China for assistance.

So why NATO?

The alliance is durable, and as a democratic organization, the bedrock of NATO’s security framework is essential and can strengthen regional stability while bolstering deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. Working with allies, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, is part of the solution to a more dangerous and uncertain world.

Global security is intertwined, and Europe can no longer ignore what occurs in the east. Look no further than the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which bolstered the list of democratic allies and illustrated how security is interconnected.

What occurs in Europe impacts East Asia, and what happens in East Asia influences the European Union. In the 21st century, the perception that China no longer affects NATO is invalid.

For its part, the U.S. National Defense Strategy recognizes the immediate threat of China, and calls for prolonged deterrence in the Indo-Pacific through the military. As part of that, the U.S. should continue to support a Japanese no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons.

By that same token, the U.S. must help strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, which could lessen Tokyo’s dependence on Washington for security.

U.S., NATO and SEATO leadership must collaborate on reinforcing deterrence in Northeast Asia. They can also gain a better understanding of how interoperability, military exercises and the management of nuclear arsenals provide safeguards in the Indo-Pacific.

Lastly, the U.S. must combine its separate deterrence conversations with Japan, Australia, the Philippines and South Korea. That multinational discussion should address topics like nuclear preparation if deterrence fails.

Undeniably, China will continue to bend the rules to gain control of the Indo-Pacific, and it has not been shy about trying to uproot democratic institutions and ideals throughout the world.

But to get the U.S. to represent several nations in a democratic way, Washington must understand the political landscape of other countries and comprehend the governing bodies’ situations. The aim is to avoid a future conflict with China in the 21st century, and democratic nations must communicate effectively to push for concrete agreements.

First Lt. Adrian Pickett is a troop commander for the 2nd Joint Communications Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. This commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Defense Department.

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