Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet has called for push-back against China’s military exercises in the Taiwan Strait.
During a press conference in Singapore on August 16, Newsweek reported that Thomas said China threatened commercial shipping lanes by launching ballistic missiles around Taiwan earlier in July.
Taiwan said that it detected a total of 11 missiles fired from the mainland. At least five of the projectiles fell in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which is also home to thousands of U.S. troops.
Though it is China’s response to the recent visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, the U.S. government described Beijing’s move as an overreaction.
In the press conference held before the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training naval exercise, Thomas called China, a “gorilla in the room.”
Thomas said: “I know that the gorilla in the room is launching missiles over Taiwan.”
He Continued, “If we just allow that to happen, and we don’t contest that, that’ll be the next norm.”
Thomas said it is irresponsible for the Chinese communist regime to launch missiles over Taiwan into international waters, where there are shipping lanes, and free shipping operates.
The U.S. Navy officer also said that he had seen an increase in “unsafe” aerial intercepts by the Chinese army in the South China Sea.
According to CNBC, a Chinese fighter jet in May allegedly intercepted Australia’s maritime surveillance plane in the South China Sea. Australia’s defense ministry said the Chinese aircraft fired chaff that was sucked into its plane’s engine, calling China’s action dangerous to its aircraft and crew.
In his response, Thomas said: “This reported increase in the air is obviously concerning. … It’s not a very forgiving environment if something goes wrong when you’re flying in the air.”
The U.S. commander said that if the Chinese military activities go unchecked, its incremental actions risked creating a new normal that could favor China.
Thomas said: “If you don’t challenge it, the problem is that it’ll become the norm … People just accept it. And then all of a sudden, people can make claims like the entire South China Sea is their territorial sea.”
He added: “If you don’t challenge it … all of a sudden it can become just like the islands in the South China Sea have now become military outposts.”
The U.S. argues that China’s excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere undermine the principle of freedom of navigation and threaten vital sea lines.
Thomas said that the freedom of navigation is extremely important to keep the economy running.
Thomas’s remarks come as the Chinese army again announced its new drills around Taiwan on August 15th in response to five other U.S. lawmakers’ two-day visit to Taiwan.
Taiwan said it found 30 Chinese military aircraft around the island on August 15th and 17 warplanes on August 16th.