Skip to content

China And The USA Are Threatening War In The Asia-Pacific

April 18, 2020

Via US Air Force/ Pacific AF.

The US military sent a very unambiguous message on its social media accounts this week when photos of an “elephant walk” involving long-range bombers in Andersen Air Force Base were published by the Pacific Air Forces. The photos revealed a line of aircraft on a runway that included two drones, five B-52H Stratofortress’, and six aerial refueling tankers or KC-135 Stratotankers. The elephant walk on April 13 took place just days after a joint patrol in the Philippine Sea by a US Marine Corps amphibious assault ship and a Japanese destroyer. The official justification for the elephant walk was to “ensure regional stability throughout the Indo-Pacific.”

What the US military didn’t convey were China’s own actions in recent weeks.

Andersen Air Force Base is one of three strategic sites on Guam, the small island that serves as the US military’s springboard to East Asia. In the event of open warfare in the Korean DMZ, for example, the bases on Guam and Okinawa will be responsible for shuttling reinforcements to the theater. Guam is also essential for guarding the “first island chain,” also known as the geographical concept that views Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines as barriers to Chinese expansion across the Pacific, and is deemed a prime target for a hypothetical long-range missile attack. Flights of Chinese H-6K bombers bearing cruise missiles on their wings are considered practice runs for near future wartime operations meant to neutralize Guam’s bases.

For several years now Beijing has allowed the PLA to maintain a near-permanent schedule of military exercises on nearby seas. Sometimes the extent of these activities and the boundaries they cross are difficult to measure. Last weekend, for example, Taipei protested a large-scale exercise on the sensitive Miyako Strait that’s often the preferred route for PLAN flotillas encircling the island nation. Beijing didn’t acknowledge the claim the PLAN’s aircraft carrier Liaoning was involved nor were combat aircraft skirting Taiwanese airspace. These veiled threats orchestrated by Beijing have become more common as China-US relations deteriorate amid a new cold war over economic supremacy. The US Navy did send one of its guided missile destroyers to the Taiwan Strait on April 10 in solidarity with its ally but whether it was tailing the PLAN aircraft carrier, or being tailed by other PLAN warships, remains unknown.

As the US now grapples with a severe COVID-19 outbreak and its economic impact the PLAN’s latest movements near Taiwan prompted a stern warning. This is probably the reason behind the elephant walk on Guam that was led by two high altitude intelligence gathering drones–an MQ-4C Triton and an RQ-4 Global Hawk–and five Stratofortress bombers. But there are other events that may have pushed the Pacific Air Force to show off its long-range bombers. Aside from the Chinese navy’s exercises meant to intimidate US allies, North Korea in particular has carried out missile and rocket tests for weeks on end without a clear reason for doing so. The US military’s emphasis on the “Indo-Pacific” is an important clue; the region is the most economically active part of the world and is vital to the US’s current economic standing. Should the US’ commitment to its Asian allies wane or perhaps if its current rival China reshapes the economic and diplomatic linkages among leading Asian countries, this will have a dire effect on the US’ global standing.

Comments are closed.