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The United States must push back on China’s communist regime and its aggression in the South China Sea and beyond, according to one congresswoman.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a single-party state, will only continue to expand the scope and intensity of its aggression until it is met with real resistance, said Rep. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Va.).
“China is a challenging security threat,” Kiggans said during a June 28 talk at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank. “It’s the most challenging threat we’ve faced in 30 years.
“The CCP has demonstrated its desire to increase its influence and aggression beyond the South China Sea and it can’t go unchecked.”
China’s Naval Development Outpacing US
Kiggans, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, warned that the CCP’s shipbuilding and repair capabilities are vastly outpacing those of the United States.
Whereas the number of the United States’ surface combatants has decreased to less than 300 vessels over the last 20 years, she said, the CCP’s fleet had increased drastically. While most of China’s fledgling surface combatant fleet in the early 2000s was composed of Russian-built vessels, Kiggans said, now the CCP boasts powerful new Chinese ships.
“We’re watching China because they have spent the past 20 years increasing the number of ships they have,” Kiggans said.
“Back in the early 2000s, they had about 37 [major surface] ships. Today they are closer to 350.”
To that end, Kiggans said that the United States needs to dramatically increase its own capabilities for building and repairing ships.
Whereas the CCP now controls the bulk of the world’s shipbuilding and boasts numerous naval yards, Kiggans noted that the United States currently only maintains one drydock capable of maintaining its own aircraft carriers.
“God forbid we do enter a conflict; ship repairs will be needed,” Kiggans said.
That situation, she added, would only invite more CCP aggression in the coming years.
“Our number one priority needs to be that we have to be a deterrent. If we want peace, we have to prepare for war.”
CCP Aggression Growing Beyond South China Sea
Harrison Pretat, an associate fellow at CSIS who also spoke at the event, noted that the Chinese regime’s growing naval capabilities would better allow it to dominate the Indo-Pacific, through which more than 50 percent of the world’s trade travels yearly.
The regime is already leveraging its navy to bully its neighbors and illegally attempt to claim new territory, he said.
“China remains the most active claimant in disputed waters by far in terms of the number of ships, the size of the ships, the activities they’re doing, and the activities that they’re trying to deny South China Sea powers from pursuing,” Pretat said.
Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund think tank, agreed with that assessment. She said the regime was increasing the number of hostile intercepts of U.S. and allied forces in the region, including two incidents in late May and early June of this year.
“We don’t know about all of them … only some that have been made public,” Glaser said of the incidents.
“It is clearly being directed against our allies, against our partners, and not just us.”
Glaser said the CCP is attempting to intimidate the United States, its allies, and partners into leaving the Indo-Pacific in order to secure its hegemony in the region. However, that would ultimately undermine the U.S. position and could encourage more aggression, she added.
“They are trying to demonstrate to our allies that they should not be flying closely to whatever claims that China has and should not be working closely with the United States,” Glaser said.
“I don’t think that the United States should be pulling back our operations from where we are conducting.”
US Rejects CCP Maritime Claims
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink acknowledged the regime’s increasing aggression, saying that the Biden administration had called on the CCP to “cease its unlawful and provocative activities in the South China Sea.”
The U.S. presence in the region, he said, as well as that of those regional powers with their own territorial claims, were in line with international law.
“Together with like-minded partners, we are promoting respect for international law and the rules-based order, freedom of navigation and overflight, freedom of commerce, and the need for peaceful settlement of disputes,” Kritenbrink said.
The United States maintains that the CCP’s expansive activities in the region, including everything from hostile intercepts to the creation of artificial islands to inflate its borders superficially, are inconsistent with international law.
To that end, Kritenbrink said, the United States would continue to push back on the CCP and its attempts to control the region.
“Our vision for the Indo-Pacific is one in which the region remains open and accessible, and the region’s seas and skies are governed and used in accordance with international law.
“The United States continues to reject [China’s] sweeping and unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea, and we urge Beijing and all South China Sea claimants to comport their maritime claims with international law.”