Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro warned Tuesday the U.S. needs to build more ships to be able to contend with China's growing fleet.
Del Toro, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, said China's larger fleet and greater shipbuilding capacity could allow it to achieve its goal "to upend our dominance on the oceans across the globe."
He said China has approximately 340 ships in its naval fleet and seeks to have 440 by 2030. The U.S. reportedly has slightly fewer than 300 ships.
Del Toro said the Pentagon's National Security Strategy for 2022 noted China has "both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective."
"China's disregard for the rules-based international order is particularly troubling in the maritime domain, from the Taiwan Straits to the high seas," he said. "The values espoused by the Chinese Communist Party are incompatible with individual liberty, with democracy, and with respect for human rights."
Del Toro said the Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down Feb. 4 raised alarms among Americans about the country's efforts to spy on the U.S. But Americans cannot ignore China's efforts to destabilize the sovereignty and well-being of nations in the South China Sea, such as Taiwan and the Philippines.
"Americans are rightly alarmed that a PRC [People's Republic of China] balloon violated our sovereign airspace," he said. "What Americans should also know is that PRC consistently attempts to violate the maritime sovereignty and economic well-being of other nations, including our allies and trading partners in South China Sea and elsewhere."
The U.S. Navy's Navigation Plan for 2022 said it envisions having 350 ships by 2045, still short of China's goal for 2030.
"We do need a larger Navy. We do need more ships in the future — more modern ships in the future, in particular — that can meet that threat," Del Toro said, according to CNN.
Del Toro said not only does China have more shipyards than the U.S., but it also has a huge advantage in the number of workers it can employ to churn out vessels.
"They're a communist country; they don't have rules by which we abide," he said, according to CNN. "They use slave labor in building their ships, right? That's not the way we should do business ever, but that's what we're up against; so it does present a significant advantage."
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