Chinese underwater drone spotted as US warns Beijing seeks to develop military footprint in the Pacific

Kurt Campbell China Chinese

Deputy Assistant to US President Joe Biden and White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell said that Beijing in the last several years has sought to expand its military footprints in the Pacific region, and this is evidenced by a Chinese underwater drone being spotted in the South China Sea.

He made these remarks at Carnegie’s 2nd annual Indo-Pacific Islands dialogue in a session titled “U.S. View on Islands in the Indo-Pacific.”

“In the last several years there is a more ambitious China that seeks to develop a footprint militarily (in the Pacifics). That has caused some anxiety with partners like Australia, New Zealand and even countries in the region as a whole. That is an added dimension to the circumstances.”

Terming the Pacific region “diverse” he said that the US need to gauge many parameters when it comes to the Pacific Islands including telecom, educational opportunity, enormous challenges of governance and businesses that have hurt.

At another session titled “Conversation — Fireside Chat–Developments in the Pacific: A View from Australia” Paul Myler, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Australia said that Australia’s position in the Pacific seems to be evolving and this is one of the most important priorities of the newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

He talked about the Australian foreign minister Penny Wong’s visit to Pacific island forums which “shows her level of commitment on listening and partnership.”

Deputy Chief of Mission Myler also noted that Australia recognises climate change as an existential threat. “Climate Change is also intertwined with security. Priorities are there for Infrastructure and Development for the Pacific. Getting over COVID will be important for a fiscal boost for Pacifics.”

We have to find a way to provide a fiscal support to Pacific island to get back on stable footing, he added.

He also laid emphasis over the Infrastructure that protects the economic sovereignty of Pacific Island Countries and urged that there should be transparency in the investment process. Foreign Minister Wong made very clear that we will not impose any unsustainable debt burdens on PICs and wanted to focus on staging infrastructure.

Moreover, speaking on the Indo-Pacfic he said that the region is Australia’s strategic environment. “Importance of the Indian Ocean region in trying to crystalize a sense of community is given.”

“At the time when the pacific step-up was happening, there was a lot of early work being done by our team at the time on Australia’s relationship with India. We have seen some really interesting resurgence of activities, and initiatives around climate as well.”

The Dialogue forum continues to highlight voices from island nations and examine the impact of issues like climate change, maritime security, and resilient infrastructure on the geopolitical landscape in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Key leaders from island nations, global scholars, and high-level security experts gathered to discuss how nations pursue their interests and respond to resulting security challenges in today’s increasingly complex world.

Meanwhile, New satellite images of China indicated that Beijing might be preparing for the deployment of massive unmanned subs in the South China Sea, however, the intention is still unclear, a media report said.

The new images showed two of China’s extra-large uncrewed underwater vehicles (XLUUV) at Sanya Naval Base on Hainan Island, which geographically juts into the contested South China Sea, Asiatimes reported citing Naval News. According to the report, two vehicles were present all-time at the base since March and April 2021, but have been spotted now.

It also mentions that the two XLUUVs have been seen near an area where China has previously based its midget submarines, indicating trials or testing.

Elaborating about the XLUUV, defence analyst H I Sutton in Naval News said that the underwater vehicle is around 16 meters long and two meters across.

Regarding operational use, Sutton says in Naval News that XLUUVs are capable of performing ISR missions. In addition, their larger size translates into longer sea endurance, which enables them to be used for offensive operations such as minelaying, anti-submarine warfare and special operations.

According to Asia Times citing an August report from the US Congressional Research Service (CRS), the potential for miscalculation and escalation with unmanned vessels, mentioning that they make tempting targets.