While the Trump administration and Beijing continue to spar over trade, the Pentagon has been quietly shifting towards a military threat from China during readiness drills according to SCMP.
Last week, US and Japanese troops conducted a joint war game exercise using land-to-ship missiles on an enemy ship from the city of Kumamoto located on the southern island of Kyushu - reportedly "keeping in mind China’s increasing maritime activities," according to local media.
In another drill last week off the coast of Virginia last week - 28 vessels were put through the paces to simulate transporting a mass of troops and equipment to a major conflict overseas.
Meanwhile, the US conducted five days of drills with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) forces at the beginning of September - the first such drills between America and the 10 member nations. As SCMP notes, "Four of those countries – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – have territorial disputes with Beijing over the South China Sea."
Lastly, in yet another drill last month, US marines practiced seizing airfields and islands in the East and South China Seas near the Philippines and the Japanese island of Okinawa.
According to the report, "Observers said the Pentagon and the PLA had been increasingly focused on each other in their war game scenarios."
"China’s military modernization since the early 1990s has been almost entirely focused on countering American capabilities," said John Lee, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington.
"From this point of view, it is natural to expect that many American military exercises would have China in mind."
While the US is not a claimant in the South China Sea, it regards the area as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China’s military expansion in the Pacific and Indian oceans – a strategy that has had Beijing on alert.
Since a major overhaul of the PLA that began in 2015, the Chinese military has emphasised the importance of “real war” exercises and stepped up the frequency, scale and intensity of such drills.
Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said Beijing was responding to what it saw as “strategic threats”.
“China feels that it is facing a lot of external strategic threats – especially from the US,” Song said. -SCMP
According to retired PLA colonel Yue Gang, the United States is seeking support from its allies to expand its influence by working with regional allies, including "Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Australia," all of which have participated in joint military exercises over the last few months.
Yue said that the recent US military moves were carefully choreographed to align with its other geopolitical efforts - in particular the trade talks.
"[China] should see through the rhetoric and realize its purpose, and be clear that a counter move would not necessarily be something that could lead to a war."