Over the past few weeks, U.S. Navy ships and B-1 Air Force bombers have undertaken missions to send a very public message that the U.S. military intends to maintain a presence in the region and reassure its allies.
The Pentagon accused China of exploiting the pandemic to gain military and economic benefits by expanding the areas in which it operates.
“The People’s Republic of China is attempting to leverage regional focus on Covid to assertively advance its interests,” said the cap. U.S. Navy Michael Kafka, a spokesman for the US Army’s Indo-Pacific command at CNN in a statement Wednesday.
The Pentagon claims that the pandemic has not damaged its capabilities
And the Pentagon has made it clear that the coronavirus epidemic has not affected its ability to respond to Chinese actions.
“We have the ability and ability to deliver long-range fires anywhere and anytime and we can bring overwhelming firepower – even during the pandemic,” said General Timothy Ray, commander of the Strike Global Air Force command who oversees to the force of the bomber in the area.
On Wednesday the Pacific Navy fleet took the unusual step of announcing that all its submarines in the region were at sea conducting operations “in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region amid the coronavirus pandemic”.
While the US military recently put an end to its “presence of continuous bombers” on the Pacific island of Guam for the first time since 2004, the US Air Force has continued to send bombers to the region.
In the past few weeks, the United States has flown B-1 bombers from U.S. bases in the region on three separate occasions, including an operation on the South China Sea and an deployment of four B-1 bombers and 200 staff members from Dyess Air Force Base. in Texas to Guam.
Late last month the U.S. Navy also contested Chinese claims on the waters surrounding the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea, contesting islands that the U.S. has long claimed that China is using to house weapons and military facilities. .
Nobody is suggesting that the United States is headed for conflicts with China, but Defense Secretary Mark Esper has continued to consider the obtuse Beijing a priority.
“We are concerned about the growing and opportunistic activity of the People’s Republic of China to force its neighbors and push its illegal maritime claims into the South China Sea, as the region and the world are focusing on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic”, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, told CNN.
China has long criticized what it calls U.S. provocations and its military efforts in the South China Sea, which began several years ago when China advanced disputed territorial claims.
South China Sea strategically crucial
The South China Sea is considered a crucial strategic location, as it is home to some of the world’s busiest shipping routes, as well as potential deposits of natural resources such as oil and gas. Parts of the sea are disputed by multiple applicants, including China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan. China built outposts on man-made islands in the disputed area, installing military facilities and missiles there as part of an attempt to exercise control over strategic waterways according to U.S. officials.
“We continue to implement a global program of operations on the freedom of navigation in which the ships of the United States Navy safely and professionally challenge excessive maritime requests, including those in the South China Sea. We also carry out routine transits through the Taiwan Strait to further demonstrate that the United States will fly, navigate and operate wherever international law allows, “said Kafka.
On Wednesday, a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer, the USS McCampbell, transited the Taiwan Strait.
“The transit of the ship across the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Lt. Anthony Junco, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s seventh fleet, told CNN.
The United States routinely navigates through the Taiwan Strait, but the Chinese military consider the strategic waterway that separates China from Taiwan as a priority area and often overshadow US ships sailing through the area.
China regularly protests US Navy activities in the region and often sends ships or planes to obscure U.S. ships. Following the United States’ freedom of navigation operation which contested China’s claims to the Paracel Islands late last month, Chinese officials said the United States is engaging in “provocative acts” that “could easily trigger a unexpected accident. “
The United States also claims that China has attempted to intimidate other nations in the region.
In mid-April, China deployed a reconnaissance vessel, the Haiyang Dizhi 8 along with as many as 10 Coast Guard and maritime militia ships, as part of an apparent show of force in an area claimed by Malaysia and Beijing, according to two defense officials.
The move was an apparent attempt to intimidate a Malaysian state-owned oil company that had deployed a Panamanian-flagged drilling vessel, the Western Capella, to detect oil in the area.
Using a survey conducted by the ship-driven flotilla to harass South China Sea applicants “is a test of time” Chinese strategy, an official said, adding that China has used similar tactics against Vietnam.
The United States responded earlier this month by sailing twice with warships near the drilling vessel, a show of forces intended to signal Beijing that the U.S. Navy may challenge any Chinese attempt to seize resources in the area. .
“We are engaged in a rule-based order in the South China Sea and will continue to defend the freedom of the seas and the rule of law,” said US Navy fleet commander Admiral John Aquilino, in a statement after a of the “presence operations” near the drilling vessel.
“The Chinese Communist Party must put an end to its bullying model towards Southeast Asians from oil, gas and offshore fishing. Millions of people in the region depend on these resources for their livelihood,” he added.
China also appears to be using its military to send a message that it is capable of operating at longer distances for longer periods of time to challenge its neighbors and the United States. The United States claims that China’s only operational aircraft carrier entered the South China Sea last week along with many other warships.