The US is escalating the intensity of its military drills in the waters around mainland China. According to the South China Morning Post, US marines recently held airfield and island-seizure drills in the East and South China seas in order to remind Beijing of “US military supremacy” the Pacific – and of a treaty that the US has with Taiwan, the ‘wayward’ province that President Xi Jinping has vowed to ‘re-unify’ with the rest of the country, by force, if necessary.
The 11-day-long naval drills were carried out around the Philippines and the Japanese island of Okinawa (not far from Taiwan) by the Okinawa-based US marine expeditionary units.
The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit said the exercises were intended as a ‘warning’ to Beijing: That Washington could carry out amphibious campaigns far from home if Washington ever needed to, say, intervene in “territorial disputes between China and America’s allies in the region.” Most of the activity took place in the Philippines and East China Seas, and around an American naval base in Japan.
The drills were also intended “to remind Beijing of America’s military edge” at a time when the Communist Party is dramatically increasing its military budget in an arms race with the US.
The team performed “reconnaissance” and “surveillance” missions, but they also practiced landing a team of troops to “establish a refueling point” from a massive troop-carrying aircraft.
The unit’s Amphibious Reconnaissance Platoon also performed a reconnaissance and surveillance mission through a high-altitude, low-opening parachute jump onto Okinawa.
A tilt-rotor aircraft, which hovers like a helicopter but flies like an aeroplane, afterward sent a landing team from a Wasp ship more than 400km (250 miles) away to establish the arming and refuelling point. The team achieved its objective in just over one hour, the statement said.
“The speed with which the Marines were able to establish the forward arming and refuelling point demonstrates a capability that is critical to conducting expeditionary operations in a contested environment,” the statement quoted Lieutenant Guirong Cai, a FARP officer-in-charge from the Marine Air Traffic Control Mobile Team, as saying.
“Their proficiency in swiftly setting up a refuelling point with 5,500 pounds (2.5 tonnes) of fuel demonstrates the 31st MEU’s ability to rapidly refuel and redeploy our air assets as the mission requires.”
It’s unclear whether the Philippines or Japan played an active role in the drills, but as one military commentator told the SCMP, whether or not the US’s allies took part, the drills were still an excellent marketing opportunity for the US to try and move a few amphibious warships.
“To show its close relationship with and commitments to Manila and Tokyo, the Americans would invite the two allies to watch the drills. That could also be a good time to sell their amphibious warships and new model aircraft to Japan.”
This latest round of US drills, which were held on top of yet another round of “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea (Beijing reportedly warned a US warship sailing near the 12-mile perimeter around one of its islands in the South China Sea to back off or risk reprisal), come as China’s dispute with Japan over Diaoyu Islands (known as the Senkakus in Japan) in the East China Sea, is once again heating up. Beijing and Manila also have rival claims on the Scarborough Shoal (known in Huangyan Dao) in the South China Sea, but Beijing continues to insist that it has territorial rights over most of the islands in the South China Sea in spite of an international court ruling a few years back which rejected this view.