Shrinking US fleet risks giving China an advantage


October 18 — The United States and China are fast approaching a pivotal moment in who will control the Pacific. For 75 years, the US Navy has been the dominant force in this region, supporting our allies and protecting the trade routes that are vital to our economy. China is now questioning our presence in the region. Over the past decade, China has dramatically expanded its military and built the world’s largest navy. Last year alone, China produced a record 27 warships, compared to just three new warships for the US Navy. China is determined to replace America as the world’s largest superpower and is making the necessary investments to do so.

Whether America meets this challenge will depend on the actions of Congress and President Biden. Although our national policy has been to achieve a navy of 355 vessels, years of production delays and limited funding have left us with an undersized fleet of 297 vessels. Our readiness has diminished and we are destroying old ships faster than we are building new ones.

Unfortunately, this trend does not seem to bother President Joe Biden. His budget proposal this year would have cut actual funding for the Navy, even though military leaders have said they need a 3-5% increase. Biden’s lack of urgency in relaunching our navy sent a clear message of weakness to China. This message was amplified by its hasty and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which allowed China to portray us as an unreliable partner for countries like Taiwan. This model of the president’s weakness has encouraged China to act more boldly against our allies and interests.

China draws closer to invasion of Taiwan

This month, China has flexed its muscles by sending 149 military planes into Taiwan’s air defense zone. In addition, China organized beach landing drills across the Taiwan Strait and threatened to “crush” the island nation if it officially declared independence from Beijing. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen bravely vowed not to abandon her country’s democracy to the communist regime. America must now send a clear message to Communist China that we will not tolerate an invasion.

America has been helping Taiwan through the sale of military weapons since 1979. The US military has also trained Taiwanese troops over the past year to strengthen their defenses. Taiwan will increasingly need the support of its freedom-loving allies to maintain its independence. The best way to avoid military conflict in the Pacific is to make it clear that we will defend our Taiwanese friends.

United States Needs More Ships Now

President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “A good navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guarantee of peace. Since World War II, America’s overwhelming naval presence has preserved peace in the Pacific. China is now testing our resolve because it sees a weakness. We need to correct this perception by re-energizing our Navy and showing that we are not afraid to use it.

Congress will soon pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which I helped negotiate as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This legislation would fund 10 Navy combatant ships, including a buildable destroyer in Mississippi, and extend the life of older ships to maximize our fleet. I also helped secure a $ 25 billion increase in overall military funding. I will continue to lead efforts to build a larger navy to preserve the peace and protect US interests around the world.

ROGER WICKER is a United States Senator from Mississippi. Readers can contact him at 330 W. Jefferson St., Tupelo, MS 38803 or call (662) 844-5010.

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