By: Matthew R. Crouch
What is the kernel of the issue?
Expansion of the People’s Liberation Army Navy is generating increased tension across the Indo-Pacific region. Chinese naval forces, fishing, and research vessels, along with maritime militia, routinely violate the sovereignty of their neighbors as part of a deliberate expansionist policy that is designed to benefit the PRC through expansive territorial claims and illegal resource extraction. US Naval forces are increasingly taxed to provide presence in the strategic crossroads of Asia in order to ensure stable global commerce.
Why is the issue important?
The Indian Ocean and the series of straits between Asia and Oceania are a crossroads for global commerce through which approximately 50% of seaborne trade tonnage passes each year, including 80% of China’s oil imports. Ensuring the security of the region is critical for the global economy; control of the straits in particular is a key strategic advantage in the region and a task that requires increased US forward presence in response to the PRC’s current tactics.
What is the recommendation?
The Biden administration should extend the previous administration’s idea to expand presence into the Indian Ocean and far western Pacific with a new US fleet, but with a twist: Make it a standing coalition force with participation from allies. This should include not only allied support, but also a rotational command of the combined joint naval task force. Together, Quad members and NATO allies could routinely conduct anti-piracy, freedom of navigation, counter-narcotics, and counter illegal fishing missions, as well as supporting Maritime Domain Awareness information-sharing across the region. This would assist southeast Asian nations in preserving their maritime sovereignty and protecting the resources within their exclusive economic zones.