07:37 GMT09 August 2020
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    The US military is deploying “unprecedented” numbers of soldiers to the Asia-Pacific region, AFP reported Tuesday, citing a senior Chinese official.

    "The US military deployment in the Asia-Pacific region is unprecedented," Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute of South China Sea Studies, a Chinese government think tank, told AFP.

    "The possibility of a military incident or an accidental shot fired is rising," added Wu, whose think tank recently published a report regarding US military presence in the region.

    Wu further noted to the outlet that the US has deployed around 375,000 soldiers and around 60% of its warships to the Indo-Pacific region, including three of its aircraft carriers.

    The official also pointed out that during the Obama administration, the US Navy completed four freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) - in which ships sail through disputed waterways in accordance with the United Nations principle that those areas are international waters - in the South China Sea, where there are various territorial disputes between countries such as China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Under the Trump administration, there have been 22 FONOPs in the region so far, Wu said.

    In its recent report, the National Institute of South China Sea Studies recommends that the Chinese and US militaries “step up communication” so as to “prevent strategic misunderstanding and miscalculation.”

    However, Wu’s report also noted that China does not “envisage a new cold or hot with the US” but did warn that “deteriorating military relations would substantially increase the possibility of a dangerous incident, a conflict or even a crisis.”

    Relations between the US and China have deteriorated in recent months, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as US President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused Beijing of failing to effectively halt the spread of the virus. 

    In addition, Trump’s longtime accusations against China over unfair trading practices and intellectual property theft prompted him to wage a trade war against the country beginning in 2018. In January 2020, after months of tit-for-tat tariffs, the US and China struck a phase one trade deal aimed at ending the conflict.

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