US-China rivalry: top US marine calls for redistribution of Pacific assets as PLA’s power grows

The growing might of the PLA means the US needs to reconsider its military deployments in the western Pacific, America’s top marine says. Photo: Xinhua

SCMP – 25 September 2020 – Liu Zhen zhen.liu@scmp.com

The head of the US Marine Corps has called for a redistribution of American military resources in the western Pacific in response to the growing threat from China.

Speaking at the annual Modern Day Marine conference on Thursday – this year held as a virtual event – US Marine Corps Commandant David Berger said American military bases and assets in the region were too concentrated in Japan and Guam, both of which are within range of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)‘s ballistic missiles and strategic bombers.

“We have to spread out,” he said. “We have to factor in Guam. We have to have a disbursed, distributed laydown in the Pacific that allows us to work with all the partners and allies and deter forces like the PLA from asserting themselves in a manner that tries to rewrite the global norms that have been well established in the past 70 years. So, our posture must change.”

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The existing deployment – which has been in place since the end of the Korean war – was designed to be able to respond to possible crises on the Korean peninsula but had become outdated in the era of a modernised PLA, he said.

“It’s not a good laydown for 10 years from now or 20 years from now. We need to look at it again.”

The new strategy should be to distribute forces over a wider area and spread out potential targets to make it more difficult for the Chinese to attack them, he said.

David H. Berger wearing a neck tie: American forces should be spread over a wider area to make it harder for the PLA to attack them, US Marine Corps Commandant David Berger says. Photo: Wikipedia
© Provided by South China Morning Post American forces should be spread over a wider area to make it harder for the PLA to attack them, US Marine Corps Commandant David Berger says. Photo: Wikipedia

The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet is headquartered in Yokosuka with a forward post in Sasebo, while the US Marines and US Air Force are mostly based in Okinawa. All three Japanese cities are within range of Chinese intermediate range ballistic missiles.

The PLA’s nuclear-capable DF-26 missile and H-6K bombers could also target Guam, a US territory and critical air and naval base in the western Pacific, according to the Pentagon’s annual report for 2020 on China’s military power.

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Military observers have suggested Tinian island, Nauru and northern Australia as possible options for the US relocation.

The US might also consider reopening its Subic Bay naval base and Clark airbase in Luzon and Puerto Princesa in Palawan – both in the Philippines – and Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam to boost its presence in the South China Sea.

Chinese military commentator Zhou Chenming said that while Berger’s comments were reasonable, they would be difficult to implement for both financial and diplomatic reasons.

“The proposed new bases would cost tens of billions of dollars at least, so given the timing, just before the (US presidential), the marines chief is probably just asking for more budget,” he said.

“Also, the US’s allies in the region are taking a more cautious approach to hosting its bases, which could mean more trouble.”

Furthermore, if the military facilities were spread across a bigger area, their shared defences against incoming attack would be diluted,” Zhou said.

“So it shouldn’t bother the PLA too much.”

Liu Zhen

Liu Zhen

Liu Zhen joined the Post in 2015 as a reporter on the China desk. She previously worked with Reuters in Beijing.

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