April 30, 2019 / 11:44 AM / 2 months ago

China's vast fleet is tipping the balance of power in the Pacific

TAIPEI (Reuters) - China’s navy, which is growing faster than any other major fleet, has now amassed sufficient firepower to control the seas off its coast, forcing the United States and its regional allies to sail warily in these waters, Reuters reports today.

FILE PHOTO - A fleet of ships sail out at sea as China and Russia's naval joint drill concludes in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province, China, September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

This expanded Chinese naval power is altering the strategic balance in the Western Pacific where the United States, along with allies like Japan and Australia, has long ruled the waves. For Chinese leader Xi Jinping, a strong fleet is central to his bold plan to replace America as Asia’s dominant force.

A former U.S. naval officer says his country has been caught napping by Beijing. “We thought China would be a great pushover for way too long, and so we let them start the naval arms race while we dawdled,” James Holmes, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and a former U.S. navy surface warfare officer, told Reuters.

U.S. and Chinese military officials say that as China’s fleet grows in confidence, it plans to challenge the supremacy of the U.S. Navy deeper at sea – in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

Today’s special report is part of “The China Challenge,” a Reuters series on Xi Jinping’s bold bid to make China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the dominant power in Asia.

Previously in the series: Xi's Rocket Force is ending the dominance of U.S. carriers: reut.rs/2Z8DetC

For Xi Jinping, the regular launch of new warships – all enthusiastically covered in China’s state-controlled media – serves to buttress his political standing. Since taking power in 2012, he has made a series of highly publicized visits to naval bases and ships at sea.

By 2030, some American naval experts tell Reuters, China could attain rough parity with the U.S. navy in terms of both the quality and number of its warships.

Over the past two decades, China has built the world’s biggest navy, amassing 400 warships and submarines. The United States is still the world’s dominant naval power and retains a clear advantage over China in areas like anti-submarine warfare, but its fleet is overworked and has shrunk to about 288 vessels.

Where the American navy once enjoyed unchallenged superiority in the waters off China’s coast, the Reuters report makes clear that the outcome of a conflict in these seas is no longer a foregone conclusion. In November, a bipartisan commission set up by the U.S. Congress to review national defence strategy reached a shocking conclusion: In a war with China over U.S. ally Taiwan, it said, “Americans could face a decisive military defeat.”

China’s Ministry of National Defence, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Pentagon did not respond to questions from Reuters.

The full article can be read here: reut.rs/2GLrwNe

Reporting by David Lague and Benjamin Kang Lim. Edited by Peter Hirschberg and Elizabeth Culliford.

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