The U.S. military has a talent for “taking down small islands,” a top general reportedly replied Thursday to questions about America’s ability to “blow apart” China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea.
“I would just say that the United States military’s had a lot of experience in the Western Pacific taking down small islands,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, told reporters, according to Voice of America. “It’s just a fact.”
“We have a lot of experience in the second World War taking down small islands that are isolated. So, that’s a core competency of the US military,” he added, noting that people “shouldn’t read anything more into that than a simple statement of historical fact.”
Tensions between the U.S. and China have been building in the South China Sea in recent weeks.
In response to Chinese militarization of the disputed region, which has included the deployment of anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles, heavy bombers, and jamming technology to Chinese-occupied territories, the Pentagon disinvited the People’s Liberation Army Navy from the Rim of the Pacific maritime exercises, the world’s largest multilateral naval drills.
Days later, the U.S. sent two warships — the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins and the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Antietam — to challenge China’s claims to the South China Sea. As part of a freedom-of-navigation, one of more than half a dozen such operations since the beginning of the Trump administration, the warships sailed within 12 nautical miles of several territories in the Paracel Islands.
China rejected American criticisms Thursday, declaring accusations of Chinese militarization “ridiculous.”
“The United States military presence in the South China Sea is greater than that of China and other countries that surround the seas combined,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, calling constant U.S. criticisms a misdirect. “This sounds like a case of a thief crying ‘stop thief’ to cover their misdeeds.”
Chinese media suggested that the country should boost its military presence in the region.
“Aside from deploying defensive weapons on the Spratly Islands, China should build a powerful deterrence system, including an aerial base and a roving naval force and base,” the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid tied to state-run media, asserted.
Outgoing U.S. Pacific Command (now Indo-Pacific Command) head Adm. Harry Harris stressed Wednesday that while North Korea is the greatest immediate threat, China remains America’s greatest long-term threat.
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