There are a lot of warships steaming around the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea and the chances for some kind of encounter are rising.
The United States sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region while China augmented its own forces. Both sides are conducting exercises while the war of words escalates.
The US Department of Defence said in a July 2 statement that the Chinese military exercises around the Paracel Islands had violated China’s international commitments to avoid actions that would “complicate or escalate disputes” in the region.
“The military exercises are the latest in a long string of [Chinese] actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbours in the South China Sea,” the statement read. “[These] actions stand in contrast to its pledge to not militarise the South China Sea and the United States’ vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
China tried to play dumb but given their long-standing ambitions in the South China Sea, their words ring a little hollow.
China’s defence ministry rebuffed the US statement on Thursday, describing its early July exercises in the area as “not targeted at any specific country or objective”.
“The intent was to effectively elevate the Chinese navy’s maritime defensive capabilities, resolutely defend the safety of our country’s sovereignty, and to safeguard regional peace and stability,” the spokesperson said. “The US Department of Defence is disregarding facts, reversing black and white, inciting regional tensions, and seeking its own gain in all this.”
Donald Trump has been backing up his tough rhetoric toward Beijing by giving China a sample of U.S. airpower. Rear Adm. Jim Kirkof the Nimitz strike group says that the Navy made sure the Chinese got an eyeful.
Chinese naval officials are closely watching the carrier, and in the past People’s Liberation Army naval fleets have tried unsuccessfully to force U.S. Navy warships out of the area.
“We saw plenty of the Chinese navy operating around us as we did our exercises,” Adm. Kirk said.
The Chinese presence near the exercises “helped us raise our level of readiness as we go against each other through training,” he said. “So that was a marvelous opportunity for us.”
The Chinese navy has been gradually improving its capabilities over the years, especially in amphibious warfare, as they contemplate invading Taiwan. But the entire Red Chinese Navy is no match for a couple of ultra-modern, lethal instruments of war like a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
Bloomberg is reporting that the administration will lay out its case against Chinese aggression next week.
The Trump administration plans to make an announcement next week related to escalating tensions in the South China Sea, where Washington and Beijing are vying for military supremacy, according to two people familiar with the matte
The U.S. has raised concerns over China’s decision to conduct military exercises in the contested waters around the Paracel Islands. The Defense Department last week called the actions “unlawful,” and the U.S. plans to lay out its official position next week, said one of the people who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Neither side wants to get in a shooting war, but with so many ships and planes buzzing each other in a small area, accidents have a way of happening. For the nations of Southeast Asia under threat from the Chinese, a strong statement by the White House would be welcome.