Written by Staff Writer by By Rosanna O’Connor
On Wednesday, the US Navy destroyer USS Dewey traveled through the Taiwan Strait for the first time since 2015 in a move that China was quick to condemn.
But in a move that is likely to anger President Xi Jinping , the world’s second largest economy took the opportunity to lay bare its plan to increase military engagement in the region, which it has called an “open sea.”
“As Japan’s Operation Deep Snow demonstrated, the safety of ships and airplanes is a shared responsibility,” said Adm. Zheng Zeguang, China’s first aircraft carrier fleet commander, after the pass through. “This international maritime defense policy is also a shared responsibility to promote regional security and stability.”
China continues to be one of the most security challenged nations in the world and as far as an island nation in its own right , it has seen its military capabilities increase exponentially in recent years.
This year alone , China has held 14 live fire naval drills and participated in an extensive scale exercise with nations in the region including Vietnam and the Philippines.
But President Xi’s diplomatic efforts have been overshadowed by his continued military expansion and Chinese actions in the South China Sea , a region which has long been a flashpoint for international relations .
In 2016, the US agreed to leave its man-made islands uninhabited in exchange for 10 Chinese islands being returned to China’s control. This led to territorial disputes over the islands, which are claimed by several smaller countries including Vietnam and the Philippines.
Last year , tensions in the region grew when US Defense Secretary James Mattis announced a “pivot to Asia” , backed by plans to increase military aid to the United States Asian allies. The new strategy focused on Asia, and beyond, where it will focus on counter-terrorism, conventional warfare and maritime domain awareness.
On Wednesday, the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) navy said it had built around four new naval vessels since 2015 , which has been topped by a new aircraft carrier which was launched in the southeastern port city of Qingdao, in mid-2017 .
The “big mission” of today , he told state-run CCTV , was to “strengthen our naval power and strength.”
The message from China has struck a chord with many in the region.
“It is a clear attempt to deliberately challenge international laws, including the Law of the Sea, which calls for freedom of navigation and overflight, as part of a greater strategic goal to reassert Chinese power in the region, in disregard of others, including freedom of navigation,” wrote Robert Work, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, in a piece published by the Washington Post.
China’s two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Hainan, currently have limited operations on the ground, but have carried out a variety of exercises. They have even carried out live fire training, for the first time since 2000.
These exercises are seen as potentially dangerous by the United States, which has repeatedly sent its vessels through the Taiwanese Straits, sparking angry responses from the island’s government and fellow signatories in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
But Beijing’s security establishment has also been building its ability to carry out “emergency operations” , according to Work.
“In recent years, the PLA Navy has turned itself into a major, if not the largest, force in the Chinese navy in terms of the combat power it can generate and operate,” wrote Work.
“One of the PLA Navy’s big missions, as mentioned by its commander, is to significantly increase both its combat power and defensive flexibility in the face of emergencies, be they maritime, political or even economic,” he wrote.