NEW YORK -- Adm. Philip Davidson, outgoing commander of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific, on Friday warned that China is aiming to replace the existing international order with its own, and that the U.S. and its allies must unite to defend a free and open Indo-Pacific.
"Make no mistake, the Communist Party of China seeks to supplant the idea of a free and open international order with a new order -- one with Chinese characteristics, one where Chinese national power is more important than international law," the four-star admiral said.
Davidson issued his warning during his retirement speech in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, at a change-of-command ceremony for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
"Beijing's very pernicious approach to the region includes a whole-of-party effort to coerce, corrupt and co-opt governments, businesses, organizations, and the people of the Indo-Pacific," he said in a ceremony that was attended by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Milley.
Davidson said the strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific is not between the two nations, but "a competition between liberty -- the fundamental idea behind a free and open Indo-Pacific -- and authoritarianism, the absence of liberty, and the objective of the Communist Party of China."
But, he added, "this competition does not have to put us on the road to conflict. Our No. 1 job is to keep the peace. And to do that, we must be prepared to fight and win."
The admiral said the Indo-Pacific will be home to two-thirds of the world's population and two-thirds of the global economy in the next 10 years and that the U.S. will defend its allies in this critical region.
"To our allies in the region, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, the Republic of the Philippines and Thailand, you have no better ally, and no better friend than the United States," he said.
Davidson said the U.S. is also deeply committed to advancing and expanding partnerships with Singapore, New Zealand, India, Vietnam, Fiji and many other countries in the Indo-Pacific.
His successor, Adm. John Aquilino, did not mention China by name.
He called the Indo-Pacific "the most consequential region for America's future," and that it hosts America's greatest security challenge. "It remains the priority theater for the United States," the four-star admiral said.
"We are committed to providing the deterrence needed to prevent [a] great power conflict," said Aquilino, a graduate of the elite Navy Fighter Weapons School, known as Top Gun.
"And should it be directed, we're committed to be able to fight tonight and win. We will compete to achieve our national interests, we will cooperate where we can and we will confront where we must in order to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific," he said.
Aquilino moves up from Pacific Fleet commander. He assumes leadership of the largest of the U.S. military's six geographic combatant commands, covering 36 nations that are home to 50% of the world's population. He will lead more than 380,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and Department of Defense civilians.
Davidson ignited an intense debate in Washington in March when he told Congress that he thinks the threat of China taking action in the Taiwan Strait could manifest within the next six years.