For Peter Loftus, joining the military was not only a professional choice but also a deeply personal one. The son and grandson of men who served in the Air Force, Loftus was inspired by his father’s service at a young age. “I started thinking, ‘How can I do a similar thing? How can I contribute to my country and serve something that’s greater than myself?’”
Loftus found his opportunity to contribute through his passion for learning foreign languages. Recognizing that the U.S. government was in need of officers with a strong background in Chinese, he began to intensively study Chinese as a student as UMass Amherst. Loftus seized every opportunity to strengthen his Chinese language skills and increase his understanding of Chinese culture, embarking on several study abroad experiences in China, including one funded by a Fulbright-Hays Grant in which he conducted research on China’s anti-corruption campaign and one-child policy.
Applying his knowledge of China to US-China military affairs, Loftus worked in the Pentagon for Air Force International Affairs, offering input to the China desk on topics like China’s actions in the South and East China Seas. While there he also founded a group called US Military China Hands, a select coalition of junior military officers united in their goal of becoming China experts. “The idea is that as we get more experience and exposure to China…We’re going to be missionaries in a sense. We’re going to try to spread this knowledge, both of our personal and academic experiences in China, to the rest of the military,” he explained.
It is this component of sharing knowledge that Loftus finds crucial to increasing mutual understanding between the US and China on the security front. “Not everyone [in the Air Force] has a very thorough understanding of the Far East,” said Loftus, but the two countries’ increased exposure to each other can fill knowledge gaps that would otherwise lead to a miscalculated military approach from either China or the US. “If we’re going to be successful in the Pacific rebalance,” he reasoned, “then we should definitely have a very thorough understanding of what China is, what [it] desires, what [it] aspires to be, and also find ways to be more proactive about taking a cooperative and mutually beneficial approach.”
Loftus is pursuing a Masters in International Affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies with concentrations in China Studies and International Economics. He is currently spending two semesters at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, where he is taking classes on China in Mandarin Chinese. Equipped with knowledge of China acquired from both his personal experiences and studies, he hopes to play an important part in facilitating joint US-China security initiatives in the future, seeing great potential for the two countries to come together on counter-terrorism efforts.