The US is upping military pressure on China amid increased tensions over the South China Sea and accusing Beijing of seeking to leverage the coronavirus pandemic to extend its sphere of influence in the region.
Over the last few weeks US Navy ships and Air Force B-1 bombers have undertaken missions aimed at sending a very public message that the US military intends to maintain a presence in the region and reassure allies.
It’s also a top priority for the Pentagon to get the virus-stricken aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt back out to sea in the region by as soon as the end of the month.
The moves come as the US is increasing the pressure diplomatically with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly attacking Beijing for failing to stem the virus’s spread and not being transparent during the early stages of the outbreak which originated in the country.
The Pentagon accused China of exploiting the pandemic to gain military and economic advantages by expanding the areas in which it operates.
“The People’s Republic of China is attempting to use the regional focus on Covid to assertively advance its own interests,” US Navy Capt. Michael Kafka, a spokesperson for the US military’s Indo-Pacific Command told CNN in a statement on Wednesday.
And the Pentagon made clear the coronavirus outbreak has not hurt its ability to respond to Chinese actions.
“We have the capability and capacity to provide long range fires anywhere, anytime and can bring overwhelming firepower–even during the pandemic,” said Gen. Timothy Ray, commander of the Air Force Global Strike command which oversees the bomber force in the area.
On Wednesday the Navy Pacific Fleet took the unusual step of announcing that all of its submarines in the region were at sea conducting operations “in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region amidst the pandemic caused by the coronavirus.”
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