Daily US Times: Mark Esper, United States Defense Secretary, said on Tuesday that Washington is counting on Asian partners to help rein in an increasingly aggressive China, as two of the US Navy’s most powerful warships conducted drills with allies in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
Esper accused China of bullying nations around the Pacific, depriving countries with claims in the South China Sea of trillions of dollars of oil and gas revenue and fishing rights. He also accused China of “brazen disregard of international commitments.”
Esper said: “Make no mistake, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) has been engaged in this sort of behavior for many years.”
“But today, its true intentions are on full display for all to see,” he said while delivering an online speech to the UK based International Institute of Strategic Studies.
The head of the US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, Adm. Philip Davidson, kept up the tough rhetoric against China on Wednesday.
Davidson told the Defense Writers Group in Washington that “It’s important to keep Beijing from achieving its goal of overturning the rules-based international order in the pernicious manner in which they’re trying to do it.”
Esper said Washington was prepared to uphold its pledge to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, banking on a three-pillar strategy to do so: “preparedness, strengthening partnerships and promoting a more networked region.”
The partnerships were critically important, and Esper called them “a strategic network our competitors cannot match.” That network was on display around the Indo-Pacific as the US defense chief spoke from the Pentagon.
In the Philippine Sea, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group were joined by Japanese and Australian warships for joint exercises.
The USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group teamed up with four Indian warships to practice communications and air defense drills in the Indian Ocean.
Esper said: “I want to highlight our increased defense cooperation with India, one of the all-important defense relationships of the 21st century.”
Besides India and longtime US allies Australia and Japan, Mark Esper rattled off a long list of Asian nations that are cooperating with the US on military and maritime security issues.
Those included Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei and Vietnam, all nations with claims in the 1.3 million square mile the South China Sea, most of which Beijing claims as its own sovereign territory.
Mark Esper said not only were US allies and partners upping their cooperation with the US, they were also working with each other. He cited a recent military base access agreement between India and Australia.
The Indian Navy noted the kind of cooperation Esper was talking about when it tweeted Monday about its exercises with the US Navy. Indian warships had recently completed similar exercises with the French and Japanese navies, it said.
While US partners are putting their military hardware in positions to make a statement with the exercises, they are also being vocal about what they see as a more belligerent China.
Japan said in its annual defense white paper released this month that China had been putting continued pressure around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Daioyu, while also sending more planes and ships on missions around Japanese airspaces and maritime. Tokyo called these “a matter of grave concern.” The annual report also criticized Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
Japan’s defense white paper said: “China is moving forward with militarization, as well as expanding and intensifying its activities in the maritime and aerial domains, thereby continuing unilateral attempts to change the status quo by coercion.”
India gets vocal
India has also been more vocal about the South China Sea issue, though unlike Japan, New Delhi doesn’t regularly deploy military forces there. It has no territorial claims in the region, but like many countries it relies on busy shipping lanes in and around the South China Sea.
he Indian Ministry of External Affairs made statements twice in May asserting that the waters of the South China Sea are a global common that should be subject to freedom of navigation rules.
Abhijit Singh, a senior fellow and head of Maritime Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, said: “There’s nothing new in terms of the position, but the tone and tenor of the statement tells you that India is going to speak in a louder voice on what’s happening in the South China Sea.”
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