Oct. 18—The United States and China are fast approaching a pivotal moment that will determine who controls the Pacific. For 75 years, the U.S. Navy has been the dominant force in that region, providing support to our allies and protecting trade lanes that are vital to our economy. China is now challenging our presence in the region. Over the past decade, China has dramatically grown its military and built the world's largest navy. In the last year alone, China has produced a record 27 navy warships compared to just three new warships for the U.S. Navy. China is bent on replacing America as the world's leading superpower and is making the necessary investments to do so.
Whether America meets this challenge will depend on the actions of Congress and President Biden. Although our national policy has been to achieve a 355-ship Navy, years of production delays and scarce funding have left us with an undersized fleet of 297 ships. Our readiness has declined, and we are scrapping old vessels faster than we are building new ones.
Unfortunately, this trend does not seem to bother President Joe Biden. His budget proposal this year would have cut real funding for the Navy, even though military leaders have said they need a 3% to 5% increase. Biden's lack of urgency in reviving our Navy has sent a clear message of weakness to China. That message was amplified by his rushed and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which allowed China to portray us as an unreliable partner to countries like Taiwan. This pattern of weakness from the president has encouraged China to act more boldly against our allies and interests.
China moves closer toward invading Taiwan
This month, China flexed its muscles by sending 149 military jets into Taiwan's air defense zone. In addition, China has been staging beach landing drills across the strait from Taiwan and has threatened to "crush" the island nation if it officially declares independence from Beijing. Taiwan's President, Tsai Ing-wen, has courageously vowed not to surrender her country's democracy to the communist regime. America now needs to send an unambiguous message to communist China that we will not tolerate an invasion.
America has been aiding Taiwan through the sale of military arms since 1979. The U.S. military has also been training Taiwanese troops over the past year to bolster their defenses. Taiwan will need more and more support from freedom-loving allies in order to maintain their independence. The best way to avoid a military conflict in the Pacific is to make it clear we will defend our Taiwanese friends.
U.S. needs more ships now
President Teddy Roosevelt once observed, "A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guarantee of peace." Since World War II, America's overwhelming naval presence has preserved peace in the Pacific. China is now testing our resolve because it perceives weakness. We must correct this perception by revitalizing our Navy and showing we are not afraid to use it.
Congress will soon take up the National Defense Authorization Act, which I helped negotiate as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This legislation would fund 10 Navy battle force ships, including one destroyer to be built in Mississippi, and would extend the service life of older ships to maximize our fleet. I also helped secure a $25 billion increase in overall funding for the military. I will continue leading the effort to build a larger Navy to preserve peace and protect American interests around the world.
ROGER WICKER is a U.S. Senator from Mississippi. Readers can contact him at 330 W. Jefferson St., Tupelo, MS 38803 or call (662) 844-5010.