View Full Version : US show of power in the Pacific aimed at the Chinese

10-07-06, 11:13
By Francis Harris aboard USS Bonhomme Richard

(Filed: 10/07/2006)

When the huge American helicopter carrier USS Bonhomme Richard left Pearl Harbour with its bristling pack of escorts last week, every crewman on deck turned to salute the sunken wreck of the battleship Arizona, destroyed in the Japanese surprise attack of 1941.

More than six decades after that attack, America is once again worried about the emergence of a powerful rival on the other side of the Pacific. This time it is China and America is determined not to be caught by surprise.

With little fanfare, it is building up its military strength in the Pacific and has launched a series of manoeuvres across the ocean, unmatched in scale for a generation, to confront the relentless build-up by China.

The Bonhomme Richard is one of 41 surface vessels and submarines and 160 aircraft joining the biennial rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) exercise. It is the world's largest maritime war game this year and involves seven other countries: Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, South Korea and a small detachment of divers from the Royal Navy.

Last month America brought together three of its giant aircraft carrier battle groups, a total of 28 ships and 280 aircraft, off the island of Guam. It was the biggest carrier exercise since the Vietnam war. A two-carrier exercise is due next month.

"The biggest thing we are doing out here is learning to work together," said Cdre Jonathan Picker, explaining the purpose of Rimpac 2006, aboard the 44,000-ton Bonhomme Richard.

Was the exercise aimed at any one country? "No, absolutely not. It is never aimed against anybody."

But it is clear that America is sending a message to at least two nations: North Korea and China. Iran will figure too. North Korea's seven-missile salvo last week, which caused international outrage, was launched just as the Rimpac exercise began.

On board the Bonhomme Richard, wardroom chatter among the cheerful officers turned half-jokingly to the prospect of another war in Korea.

Gary Schmidt, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says the permanent shift of forces to the Pacific "is meant to bolster an area of the world where there is potential for a major conflict, not just in China but in North Korea too".

It is part of a cautious new approach termed "the hedging strategy". Boiled down, it is a simple insurance policy: military readiness is being significantly raised in case China and North Korea turn openly hostile. If they remain peaceful, no harm is done.

The Pacific, studded with palm-fringed islands, is a holidaymaker's dream. But the vast spaces of this ocean also provide a playground for the muscle-flexing of rising powers.

China, which has a rampant economy, has raised military spending by more than 10 per cent a year for 15 years. That has given the People's Liberation Army a bristling array of high-tech weaponry, including carrier-killing weapons. They threaten the vessels that have kept the Pacific a United States lake for more than half a century and that could block China's long-cherished dream of snuffing out the small democratic breakaway state of Taiwan.

Mr Schmidt suggested that the growing rivalry had parallels with the dreadnought-building race between Britain and Germany in the years before the First World War. He said the Chinese, after watching this summer's demonstration of American power, had probably concluded: "Yes, we see how powerful you are and that is going to make us work twice as hard."

Michael Pillsbury, a China expert who advises Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, and who helped to craft the hedging strategy, told The Daily Telegraph: "There is no real explanation for why China is doing all this, what the limit is, or how much longer it will go on. What is the purpose of it?"

In a previous age, Japan's agents sat on the teahouse terraces on the verdant hills above Pearl Harbour, secretly chronicling the strength of the American naval deployment.

Now, American officers say that it is Chinese agents who routinely track the movements of the Pacific fleets. It remains an elegantly simple form of espionage - anyone can watch without arousing suspicion. This summer the spies will surely be claiming overtime.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/07/10/wpacific10.xml&sSheet=/news/2006/07/10/ixnews.html