FILE PHOTO: Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters
The US should maintain a military capability to deter acts of aggression in the Indo-Asia Pacific region, the House of Representatives has said, amid aggressive Chinese behaviour in the strategic region. Approving the annual defence budget, it noted that the US has a national interest in maintaining the stability and security of the Indo-Asia Pacific region.
The National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA)-2018 said that the US “should maintain a military capability to deter acts of aggression and respond to regional threats.” It also called for continuing efforts to realign forces, committing additional assets, and increasing investments in the region as necessary to maintain a robust US commitment to the region.
It directed the Defence Secretary to develop a strategic plan and submit it to the Congress by February 1 next year and assess US Pacific posture, deployment plans, and realignment and basing needs to accomplish defence priorities and respond to complex crises and contingencies. To be submitted to the Congress before March 1 next year, the report should align with the Department of Defence strategy to prioritise US defence interests in the Indo-Asia Pacific region that would be required elsewhere in this subtitle, the budget said.
Calls for reassessing and realigning forces by the US come at a time when China has been increasingly aggressive in the disputed South China Sea region and flexing its military muscles overseas. It has this week sent military personnel to man its first overseas military base at Djibouti in the strategic Indian Ocean region.
Though Beijing downplayed reports that its naval facility at Djibouti was its first military base, the dispatch of PLA personnel sparked concerns in the US. The Djibouti military base is a few kilometres from Camp Lemonnier, one of Pentagon’s largest foreign installations. China’s second base is coming up in Gwadar, Pakistan, linking its restive Xinjiang region to the Indian Ocean through the USD 50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The US defence budget assured that America was committed to providing extended deterrence to allies in the Asia-Pacific, including Japan and South Korea. Also, it said that the US must maintain robust nuclear capabilities, including nuclear-capable aircraft, to assure that the full spectrum of military options associated with the extended deterrence commitments of the US remains credible and executable.
Supporting recent Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea that challenge arbitrary limitations that are in contravention of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the budget asked the US Defence Secretary to provide a report to the congressional committees that outlines US policy and strategy regarding freedom of navigation in the global commons and a plan for conducting FONOPs in the South China Sea with regularity.
The US should regularly and routinely conduct freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, it said. Meanwhile, a White paper issued by the House Armed Services Committee said China continues to build new military bases in the South China Sea, while the regime in North Korea continues to pursue nuclear weapons and deploy new, longer-range ballistic missiles that directly threaten the US.