China has found a massive window of opportunity with the coming of the Biden administration to solidify its position in East Asia and remove the long-standing sway of the American alliance system. The US base in Okinawa, its long sustained partnership with South Korea and Japan as well as the security promise to Taiwan were for a very long time a guarantee against any Chinese expansionist dream. However, with the coming of the Biden administration and his soft approach towards Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, the effect of this alliance system has become weak.
The Miyako Strait is strategically valuable, being the only pathway for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy into the Pacific Ocean from the East China Sea and the only opening of the US’s strategy of Island chain’s first island chain. It is the PLA Navy’s main route into the Pacific Ocean. Though the Miyako Strait is too wide to be a chokepoint, the US can interdict the Chinese vessels passing through the crucial Strait by deploying anti-ship and air defence missiles. However, the Biden administration following a mellow approach with China and Biden’s planned withdrawal of forces from Okinawa have given China the confidence to make the Miyako Strait its backwater.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force spotted a PLA Navy flotilla consisting of six warships, namely the aircraft carrier Liaoning, the Type 055 large destroyer Nanchang, the Type 052D destroyers Chengdu and Taiyuan, the Type 054A frigate Huanggang and the Type 901 comprehensive supply ship Hulunhu, which passed through waters between Okinawa Island and Miyako Island and sailed north toward the East China Sea on Monday, Japan’s Ministry of Defense Joint Staff said in a press release on Wednesday. On April 3, the same flotilla went south from the same region, the statement said, indicating that the Chinese carrier group was returning to where it came from.
These movements by the Liaoning aircraft carrier task group of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy reportedly crossed the Miyako Strait again on Monday and sent an aircraft near the Senkaku Islands on Tuesday, which as per the Global Times, the CCP mouthpiece, was orchestrated to send a warning to Japan amid the country’s recent, criticism of China’s activities in the East China Sea’s disputed region. Similar PLA activities will likely become routine depending on China-Japan relations, the publication added.
The Island Chain Strategy has been discussed within the US military circles for quite some time. In 2019, James Holmes, inaugural holder of the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy, had written, “Fortifying the “first island chain” that runs parallel to the mainland coastline would discourage aggression by convincing the Chinese Communist leadership aggression cannot pay.”
He had added, “Message to Beijing: you can try to deny U.S. and allied forces access to the Western Pacific or the freedom to move around within the theater, but you will see your access and freedom of movement curtailed if you do. Strewing missiles of various kinds along the island chain while deploying manned and unmanned aircraft and ships of war nearby would seal up the straits through which surface and air traffic must pass to reach the broad Pacific. No People’s Liberation Army (PLA) commander would relish running such a gauntlet.”
However, under the Biden administration, things are becoming too favourable for the Chinese Communist Party and it has become confident in its ability to breach the first Island chain. This confidence is in part a result of the spine-less foreign policy of Joe Biden and in part the result of the fact that Biden is willing to reduce the US military presence in Okinawa.