US Navy chief stresses Indo-Pacific focus after Biden-Xi meet

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti this week emphasized the military's focus on the Indo-Pacific during a weeklong visit to the region, which followed a high-profile meeting between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping earlier this month. Speaking to reporters during a trip to South Korea, Franchetti — the first female Navy admiral...

US Navy chief stresses Indo-Pacific focus after Biden-Xi meet

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti this week emphasized the military's focus on the Indo-Pacific during a weeklong visit to the region, which followed a high-profile meeting between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping earlier this month.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to South Korea, Franchetti — the first female Navy admiral — said the U.S. was prepared to defeat China if needed when asked about Beijing's military buildup in the South China Sea.

On her first trip to the Indo-Pacific since being confirmed by the Senate earlier this month, Franchetti echoed familiar refrains that the U.S. was committed to working with allies in the Indo-Pacific to ensure the region is free and secure.

Even as Washington is engulfed in crises in Europe and the Middle East, Franchetti said the "foremost priority" for the U.S. is the Indo-Pacific.

"No matter what is happening around the world, the United States Navy continues to deploy and operate forward here in the Indo-Pacific," she said. "Today our Navy’s role has never been more important or consequential."

"Our Navy is America’s away team," Franchetti added. "We operate forward with allies and partners on, under, and above the sea, and in the same space and the same domains as potential adversaries every single day."

China already has the largest navy in the world and is rapidly growing its nuclear arsenal as Washington fears a potential conflict over Taiwan, a self-governing island nation that Beijing has vowed to reunify with.

At the same time, American and allied forces are navigating the waters and skies of the Indo-Pacific amid increased tensions and run-ins with Chinese forces.

The Pentagon has accused China of engaging in 180 risky and coercive flight maneuvers around the South China Sea, while U.S. allies like the Philippines say Beijing is harassing them in the maritime domain.

Biden and Xi held a rare meeting this month that experts said put the U.S. and China on a more manageable footing, including by restoring high-level military communications, though it did not ease the the tensions across the Indo-Pacific.

Franchetti said the Biden-Xi agreement to restore military channels was vital.

"It’s incredibly important to maintain open lines of communication between our two militaries," she said. "It’s essential to avoiding misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to a crisis or a conflict."

China has also built up artificial island bases across the South China Sea, a disputed body of water it claims sovereignty over, flouting international rules.

The U.S. has recently held military drills with Japan and Australia in the Indo-Pacific region and this week held a major air and naval patrol with the Philippines.

China has accused the U.S. of raising tensions in the region with provocative military drills. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a briefing this week that American forces must not "hurt China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests."

Franchetti said the U.S. is building its alliances up, as Washington this year cemented an agreement with the Philippines to build more bases on the archipelago.

The U.S. also created the AUKUS deal with Australia and the U.K. aimed at providing Canberra with more nuclear-powered submarines, which Franchetti said is a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to enhance military capabilities.

"We see historic momentum in the alliance," Franchetti said. "And I’m looking forward to further exploring opportunities to strengthen the bilateral operations and planning."