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Chinese military risk looms, legislator says

Begich agrees, says DOD is aware of China's Arctic interest

Posted: March 9, 2012 - 1:05am

An Alaska state representative thinks the state may be a risk of a military attack from China.


And U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, speaking on the legislative floor and in a later interview, said he thinks that concern is real.


During the Cold War, Alaska was considered the front line of defense against the then-Soviet Union, becoming home to several Army and Air Force bases. The state has received less attention, however, as the nation has fought two Middle East wars.


During Sen. Mark Begich’s visit to the state Capitol this week, Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, voiced concerns the military, especially the Air Force, wasn’t being provided with enough of the latest fighter planes and unmanned aerial vehicles.


Feige is a commercial pilot who is also a West Point graduate and 10-year Army officer.


“My West Point classmates have had considerable success in defending the interests of this country, and they’ve been able to do it in large measure because they owned the airspace above them and didn’t have to look over their shoulder,” he said.


The Chinese military now has a stealth fighter of its own, Feige warned, and said that could place Alaska at risk without enough of its own stealth fighters.


“Alaska is kind of beyond the Lower 48 and probably the first stop for any Chinese adventurism,” he said.


That’s not an unrealistic concern, Begich said.


Begich said he’s had briefings he can’t talk about, but the Department of Defense is concerned as well.


“There’s a reason the Defense Department is moving to an Asia-Pacific strategy,” Begich told legislators. “There’s a reason, and you partially mentioned it,” he said.


In interviews after his legislative address, Begich said the United States could face China on both economic and military fronts in Alaska and the Arctic.


The populous Asian nation needs natural resources, and is aggressively seeking them in the Arctic.


China has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to develop alliances with Arctic nations, he said. So far that has not worked because China is not an Arctic nation, but Begich warned against underestimating China.


“China is very good at figuring out where the weak points are in any nation and then (trying) to move in and exploit it,” he said.


Begich said he and other Alaskans have been trying to get the United States to ratify the Law of The Sea Treaty, and will continue those efforts in an effort to protect the country’s interests on multiple fronts.


Despite not being an Arctic nation, China has built an icebreaker and continues to look to the Arctic, he said.


“They have interests in shipping routes, the have interest in minerals and oil and gas, they understand its great military positioning, there’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” Begich said.


• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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