A U.S. army soldier travels in an armored vehicle during Warrior Strike VIII, a bilateral training exercise between the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, and the the South Korean army in Paju, South Korea. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

U.S. Planning Show of Military Force to Deter China, Report Says

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Pacific Fleet is drafting plans for a global show of force to warn China and demonstrate resolve to deter Beijing’s military actions, CNN reported, citing several unidentified U.S. defense officials.

The draft proposal from the Navy recommends that the Pacific Fleet conduct a series of operations during a single week in November that would involve American warships, combat aircraft and troops to demonstrate that the U.S. can counter potential adversaries quickly on several fronts, CNN said.

The report came as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence prepared to provide details to support President Donald Trump’s charge that China is meddling in the 2018 U.S. elections through a campaign of propaganda, spies, tariffs and coercive measures, according to excerpts of a speech he is scheduled to give Thursday.

“Beijing has mobilized covert actors, front groups, and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policies,” Pence will say in a speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington, according to prepared remarks. “As a senior career member of our intelligence community recently told me, what the Russians are doing pales in comparison” to China’s actions.

U.S.-China military tensions have also been rising in recent weeks as the trade war between the two nations worsens, fueling concern in Beijing that the U.S. is intent on stopping China from threatening American dominance of the Indo-Pacific.

The Navy plan suggests sailing ships and flying aircraft near China’s territorial waters in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait in freedom of navigation operations to demonstrate the right of free passage in international waters, the report said.

‘Larger Consequences’

The plan fits with the “larger consequences” Secretary of Defense James Mattis referred to at June’s Shangri-La Dialogue security conference that China would face for militarizing the South China Sea, according to Kelsey Broderick, an associate for Asia at Eurasia Group in Washington.

“China would view a U.S. naval exercise of this magnitude in its territorial waters as a significant provocation, likely further cutting off mil-to-mil contact,” said Broderick. “It would also empower the hardliners in China that view the U.S. as committed to containing China economically and militarily -- making a settlement on the trade dispute even more unlikely in 2018.”

The U.S. this week accused China’s navy of “unsafe and unprofessional” conduct near an occupied reef in the South China Sea after a Chinese destroyer maneuvered close to the bow of an American warship attempting to assert navigation rights. China last month refused a U.S. warship entry to Hong Kong and Beijing’s top naval officer canceled a high-level meeting with his U.S. counterpart.

The U.S. Navy proposal was being driven by the military, CNN said, without giving a precise date. U.S. mid-term elections will be held Nov. 6.

“We plan for a variety of contingencies and different operations, but we do not comment on future operations,” said U.S. Navy Captain William Kafka, spokesman for Indo-Pacific Command. Pacific Fleet spokesman Lieutenant Commander Tim Gorman declined to comment.

China has publicized a series of military exercises in recent months, with President Xi Jinping presiding over the country’s biggest-ever fleet review in April. Last month, roughly 3,200 Chinese soldiers and 30 aircraft participated in Russia’s largest military drills since the Cold War.

The U.S. Navy proposal focuses on operations in the Pacific, but the CNN report said they could stretch as far as the western coast of South America, where China is expanding investments and diplomatic relationships. If the initial proposal was approved, the missions could be expanded close to Russian territory, it said.

“There is less positive ‘ballast’ in the relationship now than at any other time since 1989, and probably much earlier,” said Euan Graham, senior fellow at the Lowy Institute, an international policy think tank in Sydney. “We are in a phase of open, full-spectrum peer competition. Adversarial behavior, on both sides, will increasingly characterize that.”

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