The United States is increasing military pressure on China amid mounting tensions in the South China Sea and blaming Beijing for trying to use the coronavirus pandemic to expand its influence in the region.
Over the past few weeks, US Navy ships and B-1 air force bombers have undertaken missions, making it clear that the US military intends to maintain a presence in the region and reassure the allies, CNN reports.
These steps are being taken amid Washington’s increased diplomatic pressure on Beijing in light of China’s accusations that it could not stop the spread of the coronavirus and was not transparent in the early stages of the outbreak.
The Pentagon accused China of using a pandemic to gain military and economic benefits by expanding the areas in which it operates. “The People’s Republic of China is trying to exploit the regional focus on Covid-19 to advance its own interests,” said U.S. Navy spokesman Michael Kafka.
The Pentagon made it clear that the outbreak of coronavirus did not interfere with its ability to respond to Chinese actions.
On Wednesday, the Pacific Navy took an unusual step, announcing that all of its submarines in the region were conducting operations “in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region during a pandemic.”
Although the US military has abandoned the “constant presence of bombers” on the Pacific island of Guam for the first time, the US Air Force continues to send bombers to the region.
In recent weeks, the United States sent B-1 bombers three times from bases in the United States to the region, including operations on the South China Sea and the deployment of four B-1 bombers and 200 people in Guam
Late last month, the U.S. Navy also challenged China’s claims for the waters surrounding the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea, which the U.S. claims China uses to deploy weapons and military facilities.
These challenges were sharply criticized by Beijing, which called on the United States to focus on the response of the coronavirus and stop such military operations.
No one is saying that the United States is moving toward a conflict with China, but Secretary of Defense Mark Esper still considers Beijing containment a priority. “We are concerned about the growing opportunistic activity of the People’s Republic of China to coerce its neighbors and uphold its illegal maritime claims in the South China Sea, while the region and the world are focused on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn .
The South China Sea is considered the most important strategic territory, as it has some of the busiest shipping routes in the world, as well as potential deposits of natural resources such as oil and gas. Parts of the sea are disputed by several bidders, including China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan.
“We continue to implement the Global Freedom of Navigation Action Program, under which US Navy ships safely and professionally dispute excessive maritime claims, including in the South China Sea. We also carry out regular transit through the Taiwan Strait to further demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and work wherever international law allows, ”Kafka said.