Amid swelling India-China border tensions and Beijing’s unchecked belligerence in the South China Sea, the US is set to deploy two aircraft carriers with a clear message to China that it doesn’t appreciate Beijing’s hostility in the region.
The USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz are set to hold some of the U.S. Navy’s most comprehensive war drills in the South China Sea concurring with Chinese naval drills in the region. With US-China tensions mounting over trade, COVID-19, and China’s crackdown in Hong Kong, U.S. officials said they wanted to challenge what they called Beijing’s illegitimate territorial claims.
“The purpose is to show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability,” said Rear Adm. George M. Wikoff, commander of the strike group led by the USS Ronald Reagan, in an interview.
The war-drills by the two aircraft carriers and four other warships will include round-the-clock flights testing the striking ability of carrier-based aircraft. It is rare for the US and China to hold naval drills concurrently in the region.
The WSJ report says that Washington has sought to project military power and send a signal to Beijing as China has been ramping up pressure on other regional countries. Beijing has expanded flights near Taiwan, engaged a brutal border clash with India and approved a national-security law to limit Hong Kong’s ‘promised’ autonomy.
U.S. officials say China may be attempting to take advantage of the U.S.’s struggles with the pandemic by stepping up its venture in the South China Sea. An international tribunal ruled in 2016 that China’s claims in the sea—which overlap with those of other ASEAN nations—have no legal basis. China outrightly discarded the judgment and proceeded with its military buildup, writes WSJ.
US and China signed a 2014 international pact devised to avert unintentional clashes between the navies of two nations by enhancing communications. But worsening diplomatic ties between the two countries have added to the uncertainty, said Lynn Kuok, an expert on Asia-Pacific security says. “The risk of accidental conflict is still below half but it’s increasing,” she said.