New INDOPACOM boss takes over and insists on readiness against Chinese aggression

Navy Admiral Samuel J. Paparo Jr. took over leadership of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command on May 3, succeeding Admiral John Aquilino, pledging strong responses to threats in the region.

“We must be ready to respond to the PRC’s increasingly pushy and expansionist claims over the Indo-Pacific region,” Paparo said at a change of command ceremony in Hawaii. “As we look to the future, the joint force will meet this great responsibility with strength, determination and confidence.”

Paparo, previously at the helm of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, has long taken a strong stance against China’s actions in the region, claiming the country is “pursuing a fearless effort to expand its aggression as a revanchist, revisionist and expansionist state,” seeking to re-establish borders with military force.

The change of command comes amid simmering tensions in the South China Sea, fueled by Beijing’s increasingly hostile actions against U.S. allies’ maritime traffic in the waters and a recent wave of “unprofessional” interceptions of U.S. aircraft. The situation is further exacerbated by China’s recent military restructuring and increase in its defense budget.

“Our world is a complex problem, played out in the disturbing actions of the People’s Republic of China and its rapid build-up of power,” Paparo said. “INDOPACOM, together with our partners, is in a position to deny and defend against attempts to break the peace granted by the international rules-based order. With this lasting test, the United States and our allies and partners will uphold the stable and open international system that has been a pillar of global security and well-being for nearly a century.”

To counter China, INDOPACOM strengthened its position in the region under Aquilino’s tenure. The command strengthened Guam’s defense system and expanded defense ties with key regional countries such as Australia, the UK, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Japan through multi-domain exercises. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III noted that these years have been a “decisive time for our defense strategy,” warning that China is the “only country with both the will and increasing capacity to dominate the Indo-Pacific.”

“Unfortunately, the People’s Republic of China continues to engage in increasingly coercive behavior,” Austin said. “And we can see that across the Taiwan Strait in the East and South China Seas, among the island nations in the Pacific, along the Line of Actual Control with India and more.”

Paparo also echoed Austin’s concerns about Russia, North Korea and violent extremist organizations that also threaten regional security. He pledged to work with allies to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” As Washington strengthens its defense ties with regional allies, observers have warned against the nascent military and economic partnership between China, Russia and North Korea.

“The team is uniquely poised to shape the current strategic environment for the benefit of our nation and our allies and partners, and we must act now with a sense of urgency that we have embarked on this path,” Paparo said. “We will protect the international order characterized by transparency, cooperation and fair competition, and the rule of law will engage everyone in all areas, leveraging and integrating capabilities that support partnerships to maintain peace and security while protect sovereign rights.”