THE WATCH STAFF
Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, the commander charged with homeland defense of the United States, recently outlined the creeping influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in North America to Congress.
Incursions such as the recent one by a high-altitude spy balloon are a threat, but VanHerck and Army Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Southern Command, reminded the House Armed Services Committee of the PRC’s increasing investment in Latin America and the Caribbean.
VanHerck said the PRC is being “very aggressive” in the Bahamas, where China’s ambassador “uses the information space to undermine us each and every day,” according to a CNN story on the general’s March 8, 2023, testimony before the House panel. The Bahamas are a key U.S. regional security partner.
VanHerck, pictured, leads U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), whose area of responsibility (AOR) includes the Bahamas as well as the contiguous U.S., Alaska, Canada, Mexico and other portions of the Caribbean. The Bahamas archipelago has been called the “third border” of the U.S. by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Its nearest island is just 50 miles from the U.S.
VanHerck and Richardson testified along with Melissa G. Dalton, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs. Richardson’s AOR includes Latin merica south of Mexico, the waters adjacent to Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
The PRC is on a “relentless march” to replace the U.S. as a leader in the region, Richardson said, according to a March 8 story by the U.S. Naval Institute’s online news site.
The PRC has economic and strategic goals in Latin America, South America and the Caribbean that range from acquiring access to natural resources to securing business for Chinese companies to bolstering its international standing and support. The PRC is South America’s leading trade partner and a major source of investment and lending, according to an April 12, 2022, report by the Council on Foreign Relations.
During their statements to the House panel, the three leaders also outlined the security challenges facing the U.S. throughout the Western Hemisphere, which range from PRC influence operations to Russian and North Korean long-range missile threats to the trafficking of illegal drugs by transnational criminal organizations.
In the Bahamas, VanHerck pointed out the importance of USNORTHCOM’s relationship with the Royal Bahamian Defence Force (RBDF), which he said continues to “punch above their weight” in contributions to regional security. USNORTHCOM and the RBDF operate two maritime surveillance systems with plans to add a third, VanHerck said.
“Our collaboration has taken on added importance as the PRC’s diplomatic corps in Nassau continues to produce anti-U.S. public statements while highlighting Chinese economic investment and humanitarian relief efforts in the Bahamas,” he told the House panel in his opening statement.
One example of PRC efforts includes a 2019 agreement with Nassau that calls for the PRC to provide funding for projects such as upgrades to the National Stadium and other development, according to the Bahamian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VanHerck also pointed out that there is heavy PRC investment in neighboring Mexico. He said that Chinese companies supply 80% of Mexico’s telecommunications, according to CNN.
As well as making sizable contributions to Bahamian security through joint military operations and training, USNORTHCOM has led humanitarian efforts in the aftermath of natural disasters and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will continue to work with Mexico and the Bahamas to stamp out attempts by the PRC or Russia to divide our countries and our partnerships,” VanHerck told Congress, according to a transcript on the House panel’s website.
Of course, incursions into USNORTHCOM’s AOR extend beyond finance and infrastructure. VanHerck told the House panel that the balloon shot down in the Atlantic Ocean off South Carolina on February 4, 2023, was “one of the ways our competitors target us each and every day in the information space, and they’re becoming increasingly adept at driving wedges between the American people,” according to CNN.
“I commit to you that this event has already generated critical lessons learned for my commands and our mission partners,” VanHerck said in his congressional statement, “and I can guarantee that NORTHCOM (is) … going to continue to learn from it and do whatever is necessary to keep our country safe.”