In an unprecedented move, China commissioned three advanced warships in a single day earlier this month.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy announced the commissioning of a new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, a guided-missile cruiser, and an amphibious helicopter carrier at a ceremony on the 72nd anniversary of the Chinese Navy. The helicopter carrier is the lead ship in a new class of assault ships.
The commissioning ceremony took place at the main naval base of the South Sea Fleet of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which is in China’s Hainan Island in the South China Sea.
Chinese president Xi Jinping was reportedly in attendance at the ceremony.
The move is the latest escalation of China’s recent saber-rattling towards the U.S. military presence in the South China Sea and U.S. ally Taiwan.
China insists that the democratically-governed island of Taiwan is a Chinese territory and has left open the possibility of using force to ensure Taiwan’s submission. Taiwan regards itself as a sovereign state.
Last month, twenty Chinese military aircraft encroached on Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. Then early this month, China sent a record 25 aircraft including fighters and bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons into the zone, according to Taiwan’s defense ministry. Taiwan deployed combat planes as well as missile systems to monitor the Chinese aircraft.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned this month that China is becoming “increasingly aggressive” and said forceful encroachments by China against Taiwan would be a “serious mistake.”
“What we’ve seen, and what is of real concern to us, is increasingly aggressive actions by the government in Beijing directed at Taiwan, raising tensions in the [Taiwan] Straits,” Blinken said on NBC on April 11.
The secretary of state emphasized that the U.S. is committed “to make[ing] sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself, and to make sure that we’re sustaining peace and security in the Western Pacific.”
However, Blinken was vague when asked whether the Biden administration was prepared to respond to Chinese actions against Taiwan with military force.
“All I can tell you is it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force,” the secretary of state said.
Meanwhile, China has made aggressive moves elsewhere in the South China Sea region as well.
Beginning in December, about 220 Chinese ships began gathering about 200 miles west of the Philippines in the South China Sea, apparently plotting a land grab. However, the U.S. and Philippine navies intervened, deploying forces to the area and warning China that such an encroachment into Philippine territory was tempting a military response.
“An armed attack against the Philippines armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the mutual defense treaty,” a U.S. State Department spokesman said earlier this month.
Over the weekend, the European Union reprimanded China for endangering peace in the South China Sea, calling on the nation to abide by a 2016 international arbitration that threw out most of China’s claims to the South China Sea.
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