U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio says that China is currently in the process of “destroying our alliances” throughout the Pacific Rim using various strategies including cost.
“They are on the verge of achieving their goal of destroying our alliances in the Indo-Pacific by making keeping our defense commitments too costly to keep,” the Florida Republican tweeted on Wednesday, according to the Washington Examiner.
The junior Florida senator was responding to other reports noting that China “has shifted the balance of power in the Pacific” in large part by modernizing its navy to battle the U.S. Navy anywhere throughout the Indo-Pacific theater.
As we have reported, China is rapidly expanding and modernizing its surface and undersea fleets to compete with the U.S. Navy and other allied naval forces. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been on a shipbuilding binge, adding 15 surface combatants since the beginning of the year.
Rubio further observed on Twitter, “It’s not just trade the[y] threaten us with.”
China’s naval upgrades come as Beijing continues to insist on unification with Taiwan, which it considers just a renegade province, not an independent country. At the same time, China has made outsized geographical claims including the majority of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway. Meanwhile, Chinese leaders have been accusing the U.S. of creating rising tensions through various policies like Freedom of Navigation Operations or FONOPS, which involve sailing U.S. warships through contested waters.
“It has been nearly three decades since the Cold War ended, but certain persons in the U.S. seem still obsessed with the monologue of seeking rivals and even making enemies,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday, according to the Washington Examiner. “To maintain regional and world peace and stability concerns the common interests of all countries and our shared future. We hope these persons will not get so deeply lost in their own drama.”
In addition to employing asymmetrical tactics such as cyber espionage and using its Coast Guard and maritime militia fleets to intimidate other vessels, China has also militarizing islands it has been building for the past several years, including radar, missile defense systems, and fighter aircraft.
“There has to be a point here where it’s too far,” Rubio, who is on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, told the Washington Examiner in June.
“We’re not unnecessarily seeking conflict, and there’s a way to avoid it, and that is to respect the rules. But at some point, we’re going to have to either enforce these rules, or we’re going to live in a world that they dominate. And that’s what they’re counting on is that we don’t have the stomach for it. And, in fact, if they conclude we don’t have the stomach for it, they’re likelier to do it,” he added.
Analysis: Little by little, inch by inch, one act of intimidation at a time, the Chinese are slowly but steadily exerting control over more and more of the South China Sea. Where is the red line?
So far, the Trump administration has not drawn one or has decided not to share it publicly. There is no way of knowing if the White House communicated that ‘red line’ to the Chinese government during formal and informal discussions and meetings. That said, the administration also hasn’t been sitting back and doing nothing to counter Beijing’s steadily rising influence in the region.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis have regularly engaged our Asian allies with assurances and reassurances that the U.S. is in the region to stay, and will ensure they are adequately defended against actual Chinese aggression. We are bolstering the capabilities of regional powers such as Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Australia with missile defenses, more capable aircraft, and an enhanced U.S. naval presence.
The Chinese strategy is to constantly undermine those assurances with pressure tactics, intimidation, and — when needed — direct confrontation. It’s navy is part of that strategy. And according to Rubio, Bejing is having success at it.
One reason why China now poses a much more credible threat is that it is building a more capable blue-water fleet designed to both engage the U.S. Navy or, importantly, to deploy sea-based stand-off weaponry that keeps the U.S. Navy out of the theater of operations and unable to come to the defense of an ally, should China engage them in military action. China is doing this through the development and deployment of longer-range missiles, better fighter aircraft, and a more capable navy. The U.S. Navy is responding by developing and building even longer-range systems.
At this time, the U.S. and China are largely engaged in a war of wills. Neither wants to be seen as backing down. If China were to do so, its leaders fear, then that would amount to Beijing ceding control of global policy to Washington — again — something the Communist Party does not want to do. If the U.S. backs down, every country in the region would immediately fall under threat of Chinese coercive actions, especially Taiwan and Japan.
China is a revisionist power. Beijing does not want the current global order led by the United States to stand. So while Beijing may give in to Trump trade demands and other concessions in the near-term, we believe those are just delay tactics to give Beijing more time to bolster its forces to better oppose the U.S.
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