US Navy Alleges China Creating an 'Umbrella' to Deny Washington 'Military Access' in Western Pacific
10:10 GMT 12.05.2022 (Updated: 10:14 GMT 12.05.2022)
Since World War II, the US has held supremacy in the Pacific Ocean through its bases and military presence in Japan, South Korea, Australia, Micronesia, Palau as well as the American overseas territory of Guam. The US Indo-Pacific Command, one of the tri-service integrated commands, has a strength of around 375,000 personnel.
A US Navy admiral on Wednesday accused Beijing of “challenging” its “military access” to the western Pacific Ocean by creating an “anti-access umbrella” and through the use of “grey zone” operations.
Delivering a statement on the “posture of the US Navy” before the House Armed Services Committee, Admiral Michael M. Gilday, the chief of naval operations, expressed concern that the size of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) had “tripled” since 2000.
“Over the past two decades, the PRC (People's Republic of China) has built a comprehensive sea-denial, anti-access system of sophisticated sensors and long-range precision weapons”, he claimed. “It is also building next-generation strategic missile submarines, erecting hundreds of new missile silos, and growing its cyber and space capabilities".
The US Navy secretary described the upgrade of the PLAN's capabilities as having created an “anti-access umbrella” for Washington and other Western allies in the region.
He claimed that the “anti-access umbrella” was being used by Beijing to mount “grey zone” operations, which he said, were intended to turn “incremental gains” into “long term strategic advantages”.
warfare refers to hybrid threats and irregular conflict tactics that fall short of outright war.
“Using a multi-layered fleet of naval ships, maritime militia, and coast guard, the PRC is undermining international norms by staking illegal maritime claims, militarising geographic features in the South and East China Seas, and intimidating its neighbours regarding offshore resources”, explained Gilday.
The US and its Asia-Pacific allies, including Japan and Australia, have charged Beijing with “illegal claims” in the South and East China seas, where Beijing is involved in maritime disputes with several of its neighbours —Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, or over the region that it says falls under the "nine-dash line". In July 2016, a United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) court dismissed Beijing’s “historical” claims under the nine-dash line in the South China Sea.
“Additionally, the PRC is extending its global reach with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—leveraging predatory lending practices, aggressive mercantilism backed, and hard military power—to access critical maritime terrain, ports, and waterways”, the American admiral added.
The US and its Pacific partners such as Australia have been increasingly worried about Beijing’s growing reach in the region since the unveiling of the Sino-Solomon Islands security pact last month.
The findings of the "Global Posture Review
" (GPR) ordered by the Biden administration last year marked the Indo-Pacific as the “priority region” for Washington in the coming years, as it recognised the “pacing threat” from Beijing.
The GPR findings, unveiled only partially, also called for upgrading the American military infrastructure and presence in Australia and Guam, among other locations.
Gilday explained in the hearing that “sea control” and “power projection” were essential to Washington’s “national security” and “long term economic health”.
“Two expansive oceans connect us to our allies and trading partners”, he remarked, adding that Beijing “clearly recognises” the importance of ocean access for Washington’s policymakers.
Beijing has repeatedly claimed that the American presence in the region is meant to contain its rising economic and strategic might, which it argues doesn’t pose a threat to any other power.
Besides being critical of the US' Indo-Pacific Strategy, which it says is trying to create an "Asian NATO", Beijing has also been critical of American power projection in the region in the form of Freedom of Navigation Program (FONOP) operations
Beijing has accused the US of “undermining” its sovereignty and “security interests” in the region under the guise of FONOPs.