The People's Liberation Army is making remarkable progress in its ability to safeguard national sovereignty and win a war in the South China Sea, a Chinese military expert said Saturday in response to a U.S. admiral pledging to defend freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
The U.S. will counterbalance China's rising influence in the South China Sea, Phillip Sawyer, commander of the U.S. Navy's seventh fleet, was quoted as saying in a Chinese-language report from the Kyodo News Agency on Friday.
In response to the Chinese navy's expanding activities, it was important for the U.S. to send ships into the region to protect freedom of navigation, he said.
So-called freedom of navigation is the only approach for the U.S. in the South China Sea and Washington will not drop this "principle" for a long time to come, Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times on Saturday.
Sawyer's remarks showed the U.S. Navy will further implement U.S.' Indo-Pacific strategy, further meddle in the South China Sea and increase patrols in the region, Li said.
Sawyer was named commander of the seventh fleet in August. Based in Japan, the fleet is the largest U.S. naval force outside the country. Its area of operation spans more than 124 million square kilometers and encompasses 36 maritime countries and regions.
The PLA Navy's ability to safeguard national sovereignty and marine interests has improved greatly, Li said.
The commissioning of the Type 052D destroyer, successful test of the intercontinental ballistic missile Dongfeng-41, Su-35 fighter jet patrols in the South China Sea and China's most advanced stealth fighter the J-20 are facts that showed that the gap was shrinking between the Chinese and U.S. militaries, Li said.
The Chinese strategy of theater commands formed two years ago and their coordination with military services has improved greatly, he said.
China now has increasing confidence on its capability to win a war in the South China Sea, Li said.
Sawyer's remarks were the second by a senior U.S. official in February reaffirming international freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Tina Kaidanow on January 5 said that U.S. ships would conduct freedom of navigation operations in the region.
The U.S. and its strongest military ally in Asia have increased cooperation in recent years.
In May 2017, Japan dispatched its biggest ship since World War II to protect a U.S. supply ship in the first such operation during peacetime under Japan's national security laws.
Military integration will be further promoted and enhanced, Sawyer said.