With Beijing’s aggressive posturing towards Taiwan and in the South China Sea region, the coming year will see Washington up the ante in the Indo-Pacific with a military deterrence that is “more lethal, more mobile, more resilient.”
The year 2023 will be the “most transformative year for US posture in the region in a generation,” said Ely Ratner, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs while speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington on Thursday.
Talking about the possibility that Beijing could undertake a sudden military action to invade and annex Taiwan, Ratner said the goal of the U.S. was to “ensure that, that is never easy for them to do rapidly or cost-free.”
The coming year will see the U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific region which will be “more lethal, more mobile, more resilient and exactly reinforcing that kind of deterrence that we were talking about that make some of these rapid, low-cost invasions nearly impossible,” Ratner added.
In line with this objective, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday said the U.S. was at a pivotal point with Beijing. China “is the only country with both the will and, increasingly, the power to reshape its region and the international order to suit its authoritarian preferences.”
“So let me be clear: We will not let that happen,” Austin said, a day after unveiling the B-21 Raider nuclear stealth bomber designed to compete with China’s rapidly growing military capabilities. He emphasized that Washington will need military strength to ensure that American values, not Beijing’s, set global norms in the 21st century.
On Nov. 29, the Pentagon released its annual China Military Power report that warned Beijing would likely have 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035, with no clarity on how China would seek to use them.
Apart from its nuclear arsenal, Beijing has also undertaken a massive all-around military modernization program, with the deployment of aggressive naval assets and missile programs, along with expanding its overseas military bases.
Given China’s aggressive posturing, laying claim over Taiwan and most of the South China Sea, Washington has acknowledged that Beijing has a robust Anti-Access/Area Denial military capability in the region.
“They haven’t been transparent about the intent behind the sort of change and trajectory that’s leading them to these much larger numbers,” said Michael Chase, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China while speaking at the American Enterprise Institute event. “They have been very reluctant to engage in discussions about strategic stability or strategic risk reduction issues.”
Meanwhile, to counter Beijing, the U.S. is expanding its military footprint in the Indo-Pacific. Apart from building closer defense cooperation with allies in the region, part of Washington’s strategy is to distribute its forces across the western Pacific aimed at complicating China’s missile targeting decision in the event of a conflict.
However, a recent report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), the policy research arm of the U.S. Congress has warned that the massive expansion of the Chinese PLA Navy is coinciding with the steady shrinking and decline of the U.S. Navy‘s capabilities that are marred by deployment delays, cost overruns and severe maintenance issues.