People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLA-AF) H-6 strategic bombers have been "practicing attacks on Guam," a US territory, while conducting "not infrequent" flybys near Hawaii, US defense officials told Defense News on Tuesday.
The US believes a war with North Korea is a "fight we can win," US Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a Tuesday briefing with reporters in Hawaii. But the outcome of war with China is less certain. The US worries about the "way things are going" with respect to China's activities in the region, the general noted.
China has maintained a mutual defense treaty with North Korea since 1961, having previously come to their rescue during the Korean War; a position the Chinese rearticulated in August as the crisis reached fever pitch.
In early September, the Chinese People's Liberation Army-Air Force conducted large-scale defensive exercises mere miles from the North Korean border, Sputnik reported.
Japan scrambled more than 900 sorties in response to Chinese warplanes breaching Japanese airspace since the start of 2017, Defense News noted.
"When we look at the capabilities China is developing, we've got to make sure we maintain the ability to meet our alliance commitments in the Pacific," Dunford added.
China's naval and air forces have made significant strides in 2017. The People's Liberation Army Air Force commissioned Chengdu's stealthy J-20 in late September, making it just the third aircraft in the world to become what mature air forces consider a "fifth-generation" aircraft, namely the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. And in April, the Chinese navy commissioned its first domestically-produced aircraft carrier.
According to Dunford, "there are some who try to create a narrative that we are not in the Pacific to stay. Our message is that we are a Pacific power. We intend to stay in the Pacific. Our future economic prosperity is inextricably linked to our security and political relationships in the region."