Beijing Tests Biden with South China Sea Exercises
Voice of America
30 Jan 2021, 04:05 GMT+10
The Chinese military exercises in the disputed waters of the South China Sea are aimed at testing the Biden administration’s China policy, according to defense experts.
The three-day event that began Wednesday comes days after the U.S. sent an aircraft carrier group to the contested maritime area to “conduct routine operations and promote freedom of the seas,” according to a statement by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
Timothy Heath, a defense expert at the Rand Corporation, a think tank, told VOA Mandarin that Beijing is sending an early signal to the administration of President Joe Biden, who was sworn into office on January 20.
“This seems part of a broader effort for China to signal its determination to maintain or escalate confrontational policies if that is what Biden wants,” he said.
A growing Chinese navy
The Chinese navy has grown rapidly in recent years and is breaking the balance of military power in the Western Pacific region.
According to an annual review of Chinese military power by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), China has achieved parity with – or even exceeded – the United States in several military modernization areas.
“China has the world’s largest navy now, larger than the United States. And it’s filled with new technologically advanced submarines and destroyers and amphibious ships,” Craig Singleton, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told VOA. He focuses on great-power competition with China.
By comparison, “the U.S. Navy is getting smaller, the ships are getting older. It costs a lot of money to build new ships,” he said.
According to the U.S. Defense Department, China is the top ship-producing nation in the world by tonnage in 2020. The Chinese navy now has an overall battle force of about 350 ships and submarines. In comparison, the U.S. Navy’s battle force is about 293 ships as of early 2020, according to the annual review.
Bryan Clark, an expert of naval operations and military competitions at the Hudson Institute, told VOA Mandarin that a larger Chinese navy force presents a bigger challenge to the U.S.
“It means that the U.S. Navy will have a harder time defending partners and allies, because the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) is going to have a lot of ships to gain sea control in areas around Taiwan and around the Senkaku Islands,” he said.