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The US must defend its Pacific territories

By Venera Upadayaya

In light of the growing influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the Indo-Pacific region, it is imperative for the United States to devote as much attention to the defense of its Pacific territories as it does to the defense of its own states. The former director of the National Security Council (NSC) during an oversight hearing held by the Subcommittee on Indian and Insular Affairs on May 16.

“Washington must begin prioritizing the defense of US Pacific territories and assets as we would any similar action against any US state,” said Alexander Gray, NSC’s first director of Oceania and Indo-Pacific security. the subcommittee. Gray served in the position during the Trump administration. He is currently the Managing Partner of American Global Strategies, LLC.

American territories in the Pacific Ocean include Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. All, Gray said, are located in critical sea lanes and host critical military infrastructure and assets.

The United States has nine additional Pacific possessions: Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island. The ninth is the Caribbean island of Navasa, a disputed property.

Neglected concentration

“Until the PRC [People’s Republic of China] ambitions have received significant media coverage and high-level official attention in places like the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, there has been an alarming lack of Beijing’s efforts to penetrate, influence, and subvert US territories that our government is directly responsible for. responsible,” Gray said.

The hearing was entitled “Protecting US interests in the Indo-Pacific region. explore how US engagement is countering Chinese influence in the region.”

It presented four other witnesses. Derek Grossman, Senior Defense Analyst, Rand Corporation; Cleo Pascal, Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Peter Watson, president and CEO of The Dwight Group LLC, and Emil Friberg, former assistant director and senior economist at the Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C.

Gray has focused on the US Pacific territories, which he believes have not received the attention and resources needed to address China’s predatory tactics. As the NSC’s director of Oceania and Indo-Pacific security, he said he has witnessed firsthand the growing influence of China’s communist regime in the Pacific, including over US territories and islands.

“The strategic reality in the region has made US territories and assets the main target of the PRC’s malign influence in the Pacific Ocean. As others have pointed out, this influence can take many forms: propaganda, traditional espionage, influence operations against elites but also against general public opinion, etc.,” Gray said.

“U.S. Special Areas have witnessed the full spectrum of PRC activity, but given their anomalous status within the U.S. government … they do not receive the attention and resources to adequately address PRC predators.”

Suggested goals

Gray offered a number of proposals to increase the protection of the US Pacific territories from the malign influence of the CCP, including strengthening the response of the highest levels of the US government to the situation.

“It is time for the National Security Council to establish an interagency policy process, shared by the appropriate NSC official, to respond to threats to U.S. territories and integrate that response into our larger national security strategy,” he said. Gray added that this process should be represented across the US government.

According to Gray, the US administration should create a director position at the National Security Council. This position should focus on US territories and assets and should provide staff support to Gay’s proposed interagency policy process.

“My understanding is that the position I held on the NSC is no longer entirely dedicated to the Pacific Islands, it’s back to covering Southeast Asia as well as the Pacific Islands,” he said in response to a question from subcommittee chair Harriet. Hageman on whether Trump’s model for the region is being promoted by the Biden administration.

Gray believes the NSC director should be fully focused on the Pacific Islands. He also said: “I think there needs to be a director who is also fully focused on our grounds and property.”

“And if you don’t have someone focused every day in these areas, you’re going to have an oversight,” Gray said.

It is also recommended that the administration move forward with the evaluation process for a permanent Coast Guard station in American Samoa.

“The Coast Guard is the organization best able to protect and defend US sovereignty over US territories and assets. They need additional resources to undertake that mission,” he said.

Fighting against malicious activity

Bureaucratically, he suggested, the administration’s resources should be strengthened to counter China’s malign activities in the region. These “bureaucratic fixes” could include the opening of additional FBI field offices in US territories and possessions outside of Honolulu.

“It also means taking the PRC’s economic attacks on our Pacific territories more seriously and integrating the efforts of the Departments of Commerce, Treasury and Labor into the larger policy process to address challenges such as those with the Canary Islands and American Samoa. it is a direct result of economic coercion by the PRC,” Gray said.

These “bureaucratic fixes” in US territories and possessions in the Pacific Ocean, according to Gray, will lay the groundwork for the US to face the unfolding competition of the great powers.

“In addition to the strategic rationale, we owe it to the Americans who call these islands home to properly shape the U.S. government’s appropriate attention and focus to protect them from malign interference and influence,” he told the subcommittee.

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