America’s largest warships are being joined by 100 aircraft and 11,000 troops to practice defending the crucial Pacific island of Guam as China declares it is “militarily and morally ready for war”.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Regan and assault ship USS America will join amphibious warfare vessels USS New Orleans and USS Germantown in war-games centred on Guam’s major naval and air force facilities.
Dubbed “Exercise Valiant Shield”, the co-ordinated land, sea and air operations around the central Pacific island will last 10 days and extend through the Marianas Island chain, the US Pacific Fleet said in a statement.
Military analysts have recently highlighted the importance of Guam, noting it is just outside of the range of potential missile swarms that could quickly overwhelm other key US bases such as those in Japan and Okinawa.
The manoeuvres were announced at the same time as China’s Communist Party mouthpiece The Global Times published an editorial exhorting its people to prepare for a potential war.
“We have territorial disputes with several neighbouring countries instigated by the US to confront China,” it said of Beijing’s expansionist moves into the Himalayas and the South and East China Seas. “Chinese society must therefore have real courage to engage calmly in a war that aims to protect core interests, and be prepared to bear the cost.”
Beijing is heavily engaged in an expansive series of military exercises around Taiwan and the South China sea. Spanning several months, Taiwan last week accused Chinese combat aircraft of violating its airspace and highlighted the presence of ‘militia’ vessels close to its territorial claims.
Last month, Beijing threatened to extend the scope of its war-games to include Guam.
“If the US goes further, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could take more countermeasures, including live-fire missile drills east of Taiwan Island and near Guam,” a senior Chinese Communist Party official warned.
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“We are confident to win on the battlefield if conflicts are fought with neighbouring forces that have territorial disputes with China,” the Global Times editorial warns India, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. “Similarly, if there is a war with the US near China’s coastal waters, we also have a good chance of victory.”
The Chinese Communist Party insists these widespread international tensions are not its fault.
“Some of these countries believe that the US support provides them with a strategic opportunity and try to treat China outrageously,” the editorial asserts.
“Of course, after all, wars cannot be fought casually, and we must win if we are to fight. Such winning has two meanings: First, it means defeating the opponent on the battlefield; second, it must be morally justified.”
But the tough-talking editorial makes one key concession: Beijing runs the risk of being internationally isolated.
“If we win on the battlefield at the expense of our international morality, we might mistakenly help the US build an anti-China alliance that challenges our strategic position even more,” it reads.
PILAU PITCHES IN
The tiny Pacific Island nation of Palau has urged the United States to build military bases on its territory to counter Chinese influence in the region.
The US Defence Secretary visited the nation last week, some 1500km to the east of the Philippines, accusing Beijing of “ongoing destabilising activities” in the Pacific.
Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau declared his 22,000 strong nation would welcome US military facilities – so long as they use them often.
“Palau’s request to the US military remains simple — build joint-use facilities, then come and use them regularly,” he said.
Remengesau also asked for US help in patrolling its vast marine reserve which is increasingly the subject of illegal international fishing.
Palau, while an independent nation, has no military. Since World War II, a Compact of Free Association has given the US responsibility for its defence.
“The US military’s right to establish defence sites in the Republic of Palau has been under-utilised for the entire duration of the Compact,” Remengesau said.
A new US radar facility is being constructed on the strategically placed island chain. But work has been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The global pandemic being partially blamed for South East Asia’s dramatically increased instability is also taking its toll on Guam. Some 1900 cases have been reported there.
This does not include the 1150 sufferers from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt which cut short its operations in March and anchored off Naval Base Guam to fight its outbreak.
According to local media, US military personnel taking part in the exercise are having their movements restricted and must largely stay within their hotels. Soldiers, sailors and aircrew were also required to take part in 14-day quarantines before being deployed to the island.
“In support of exercise events, service members will only be permitted to travel between their designated hotel room and their appointed place of military duty on base,” A US Pacific Fleet spokesperson said.
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Valiant Shield follows last month’s downsized Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise off Hawaii and the following Pacific Vanguard operation. Among the 23 warships from 10 nations were the Australian destroyer HMAS Hobart, the frigates HMAS Stuart and Arunta, and the supply ship HMAS Sirius.
“It is vitally important that we demonstrate to our allies and partners our strong commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” US Rear Admiral Michael Boyle said in the Valiant Shield statement.
It’s the eighth time the war game has been held since first initiated in 2006. The most recent was in 2018.
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel