Studio portrait of Sid Salter. (photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)

By: Sid Salter

In his “interim” national security document issued in March, President Joe Biden sounded sharp concerns about China, and he ramped up that tough talk in his first address to a joint session of Congress in April.

“China and other countries are closing in fast. We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future,” Biden said in the congressional speech, warning Chinese leaders that the United States will maintain a strong military presence in the Indo—Pacific “just as we do for NATO in Europe – not to start conflict – but to prevent one.”

That the U.S. president would express concern over U.S. relations with China makes sense.

Following the collapse and disintegration of the former Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, the world’s attention turned to the U.S.’s new role as the world’s solitary superpower. While Russia’s massive stockpile of nuclear weapons and the abundant fossil fuel reserves over a massive landmass with other ample natural resources, the former USSR’s economic collapse also posed another natural international relations question.

As a rising power with a huge population and an exploding global economy, will China rise to challenge the U.S. as the hegemon in their region and to a broader extent on the global stage? From that position, other vital considerations arise.

China intends to become a global superpower. How close are they to achieving that status?

America still is the world’s largest and most powerful military force and has the world’s largest and strongest economy, but how rapid will China’s rise to military parity or, more ominously, military primacy be – as well as their growing economic might?

Despite global concerns over the future of shipping, trade and maritime security issues in the South China Sea, it remains advantageous for China to keep imports of food and feed grains coming to supplement what they can’t successfully produce on their own.

Parenthetically, while the U.S. role in global commercial shipbuilding has become almost invisible, America still maintains the largest and strongest navy in the world.

With 11 active aircraft carriers (with two more Gerald Ford-class flattops under construction and two more ordered after that through 2034), 69 destroyers, and 70 nuclear submarines – all supported by about 3,700 aircraft – the U.S. Navy can effectively project American military might anywhere on the planet.

China is America’s top naval competitor, but with two carriers and 14 nuclear subs, the U.S. advantage is steep. Close behind China is Russia, a nation with the largest and most powerful nuclear ballistic missile submarine in the world.

So, if President Biden’s rhetoric on China is something he believes, he could do worse than to throw his support behind a sweeping piece of legislation designed to bolster American naval superiority and shipbuilding capacity moving forward authored by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi.

Wicker, R-Mississippi, introduced the Supplying Help to Infrastructure in Ports, Yards, and America’s Repair Docks (SHIPYARD) Act of 2021, which would provide $21 billion to make upgrades to the Navy’s four public shipyards and $4 billion for private shipyards in the U.S. that support the Navy fleet.

The legislation is now sponsored by eight senators, including Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Angus King, I-Maine, Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire.

China’s rise to military power on the world stage was not accomplished by internal industrial military weapons production but with a national defense import shopping cart in world markets. Arms transfers to China from Great Britain, France, Russia, and the U.S. increased dramatically in the post-Cold War period from 1990 – 2015 to rank China as the world’s second-largest conventional weapons importer.

Bolstering America’s shipbuilding efforts and the U.S. Naval fleet – in which Mississippi is a key player – should be part of President Biden’s emerging national security strategy.