The US military warned on December 17 that its warships will be “more assertive” in response to international law infractions, citing Beijing’s expansionist goals in the West Philippine Sea as an example.
In a document setting objectives for the US Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard for the coming years, the Pentagon stressed that numerous countries, notably Russia and China, “are contesting the balance of power in key regions and seeking to undermine the existing world order.”
“Our globally deployed naval forces interact with Chinese and Russian warships and aircraft daily,” the document said, noting their “growing aggressiveness” and calling China “the most pressing, long-term strategic threat.”
The most recent encounter between US and Chinese naval troops occurred in late August, when Beijing claimed that an American destroyer had been forced off the disputed Paracel archipelago.
Other countries in the region, notably Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei, contest the Asian power’s claims to nearly all of the West Philippine Sea’s islands.
To offset China, the US has increased the number of ships it sends to the region to conduct so-called “freedom of navigation” operations.
The US Navy aims to modernize with smaller, more nimble, and even remotely piloted ships to maintain a strategic advantage over the Chinese Navy, whose “battle force has more than tripled in size in barely two decades.”
According to the statement, US ships will also “accept calculated tactical risks and adopt a more assertive posture in our day-to-day operations.”
That means being “more responsive, more assertive,” according to Navy Rear Admiral Jay Bynum.
“In the past, our behavior was de-escalation. We would turn away and would minimize risk in those individual contacts,” he said, noting that the Navy “might be ceding ground” with the approach.
The US Navy will also be more visible in the Pacific, where it will “detect and document our rivals’ actions that violate international law, steal resources, and infringe on the sovereignty of other nations,” according to the Pentagon document.