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China tensions rise amid Taiwan drills, ‘aggressive’ PLA actions

China has continued to occupy Washington policymakers over this long, hot summer, and tensions boiled over this week as the Biden administration shored up relations with its Pacific allies, called out China for aggressive militarization in the region, and watched Taiwan stage air raid drills.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley is in the midst of a tour of Asia that’s specifically aimed at getting closer to countries like Australia and Indonesia. In Jakarta, Milley made it clear the U.S. aim is to ensure China isn’t allowed to drown out U.S. influence in the region.

“The message is the Chinese military, in the air and at sea, have become significantly more and noticeably more aggressive in this particular region,” Milley said.

He said China’s push to build a new naval base in the Solomon Islands is “concerning” and another example of an effort that is “not necessarily favorable to our allies and partners in the region.”

Back in Washington, the reality of China’s growing power became evident when President Biden spoke out against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan. Several reports emerged saying White House officials have urged Pelosi to scrap the visit because it could agitate China further, and Biden himself admitted, “The military thinks it’s not a good idea right now.”

Those focused on the U.S. Navy said these new developments are just the latest reasons why America needs to put forward a fleet that can handle these growing pressures in the Pacific.

At a panel hosted this week by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) again argued that China is meeting the moment by building a significant fleet, while the U.S. is failing to keep pace.

“Their shipbuilding capacity is extraordinary, and the capability of their ships is something that needs to put us all in a place to understand the determination that China is placing out there,” Wittman said.

Wittman reminded the audience that the Biden administration’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year called for building just nine new ships (or eight, since one of those was already planned), and retiring 24. That would put the U.S. fleet at about 280 ships in a few short years, while China will have more than 400.

“No, we’re not building enough ships,” Wittman said when asked. He added that while some say capability is more important than the total number of ships, China’s fleet is still more capable, as it has 285 cutting-edge ships compared to 166 ships for the U.S.

“No matter how you do the analysis… by any measure, China has much more capability than we have. We must modernize our Navy. We need to do it with a sense of urgency,” he said.

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