US Pacific Fleet plans show of force to deter China: Report

HONG KONG • The United States Pacific Fleet is drafting plans for a global show of force to warn China and demonstrate resolve to deter Beijing's military actions, CNN reported, citing several unidentified US defence officials.

The draft proposal from the US Navy recommends that the Pacific Fleet conduct a series of operations during a single week in November that would involve American warships, combat aircraft and troops to demonstrate that the US can counter potential adversaries quickly on several fronts, CNN said.

US mid-term elections will be held on Nov 6. US-China military tensions have been rising in recent weeks as the trade war between the two nations worsens, fuelling concern in Beijing that the US is intent on stopping China from threatening American dominance of the Indo-Pacific.

The plan fits with the "larger consequences" US Secretary of Defence James Mattis referred to at June's Shangri-La Dialogue security conference that China would face for militarising the South China Sea, said Ms Kelsey Broderick, an associate for Asia at Eurasia Group in Washington.

"China would view a US naval exercise of this magnitude in its territorial waters as a significant provocation, likely further cutting off military-to-military contact," she said.

"It would also empower the hardliners in China that view the US as committed to containing China economically and militarily - making a settlement on the trade dispute even more unlikely in 2018."

The US Navy proposal focuses on operations in the Pacific, but the CNN report said they could stretch as far as the western coast of South America, where China is expanding investments and diplomatic relationships. If the initial proposal was approved, the missions could be expanded close to Russian territory, it said.

"There is less positive 'ballast' in the relationship now than at any other time since 1989, and probably much earlier," said Dr Euan Graham, senior fellow at the Lowy Institute, an international policy think-tank in Sydney. "We are in a phase of open, full-spectrum peer competition. Adversarial behaviour, on both sides, will increasingly characterise that."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2018, with the headline 'US Pacific Fleet plans show of force to deter China: Report'. Print Edition | Subscribe