Walking a Fine Line on China, Obama Pacific Command Nominee is Muscular, Conciliatory

Locklear calls some Chinese actions "hostile," but says nation "should be a partner."

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The U.S. admiral tapped to become the top American officer in the Asia-Pacific region on Thursday walked a rhetorical tightrope about Washington's China policy, underscoring the challenge for the Obama administration.

Adm. Samuel Locklear, tapped to become U.S. Pacific Command chief, was at times muscular and at others conciliatory about how Washington should shape its policies and actions toward China. During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Locklear said some Chinese actions toward the United States appear "hostile," but he also stressed the need to forge a strong relationship between the two global powers.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, pressed the admiral on whether alleged Chinese Army cyber strikes on Defense Department networks rise to the level of a hostile action. After first attempting to sidestep the question, Locklear told Graham: "It tends in [the] direction" of a "hostile act."

At another point in the hearing, Locklear said of China and Washington working together on economic, military, and other matters: "China should be a partner." But he also told the Senate panel that the U.S. is "a Pacific power," and that Chinese officials "need to recognize we have interests there."

The Obama administration must balance its relationship with China, a key economic partner and rival. China also is considered Washington's top political, economic, and military rival. But experts say there are few incentives for the U.S. to provoke Chinese aggression, despite calls from some GOP lawmakers to match China's military buildup and respond aggressively to alleged acts like Chinese army cyber attacks on American networks.

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