South China Sea threat: US risks Beijing fury with ‘game changer’ plans to expand Navy

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The South China Sea is already a highly disputed region where it faces claims from China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. Over recent months, Beijing has asserted its dominance over the region, sparking fears of war breaking out.

The Communist nation has laid claimed to the majority of the vast region as its sovereign territory.

Despite having no claim to any part of the archipelago, the US has increased its military presence in the region and called for other nations to counter against China’s dominance.

And now, the US Secretary of Defence, Mark Esper, has announced plans to expand the Navy with a range of unmanned and autonomous ships, submarines and aircrafts.

The Pentagon chief said a review of US naval power – dubbed Future Forward – laid out a “game-changer” plan.

In the plan, the US sea fleet would be expanded to more than 355 ships from the current 293.

On Wednesday, Mr Esper said: “The future fleet will be more balanced in its ability to deliver lethal effects from the air, from the sea and from under the sea.”

The expansion will include vessels which were optionally manned, unmanned and autonomous and a broad range of unmanned carrier-based aircrafts, the Guardian reported.

Mr Esper added: “These efforts are the next step in realising our future fleet, one in which unmanned systems perform a variety of war-fighting functions, from delivering lethal fire and laying mines, to conducting resupply or surveilling the enemy.

“This will be a major shift in how we will conduct naval warfare in the years and decades to come.”

The Pentagon chief went on to explain why the South China Sea region is the “priority theatre” for the US military.

He said: “Not only is this region important because it is a hub of global trade and commerce, it is also the epicentre of great power competition with China.

“Even if we stopped building new ships, it would take the PRC (People’s Republic of China) years to match our capability on the high seas.”

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According to reports, China has deployed fighter jets and at least one bomber, the H-6J, to the Paracel Islands.

Since seizing the Paracels in 1974, China has built military installations on the islands.

Last week, the US Marines conducted a military exercise in a supposed flex at Beijing.

Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s maritime raid force were charged with taking down the vessel in the drills.

The exercise consisted of two platoons of reconnaissance Marine and a security element.

These types of operations – known as visit, board, search and seizure missions (VBSS) – are common practice for Marine Corps and Navy.

Earlier this year, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, called on other nations in the region to counter against China’s dominance.

He wrote on Twitter: “The United States’ policy is crystal clear: the South China Sea is not China’s maritime empire.

“If Beijing violates international law and free nations do nothing, history shows the CCP will simply take more territory.

“China Sea disputes must be resolved through international law.”

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