The Pentagon sends USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz aircraft carriers to the South China Sea. This was in an interview with The Wall Street Journal Rear Admiral George M. Wikoff, the commander of the strike squadron, led by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.

US Navy aircraft carriers should appear in the South China Sea during the military exercises of the PRC armed forces in the region. It is noted that in this way Washington intends to give a signal to the regional allies, demonstrating its attitude to building up the Chinese military presence in the region. This will be a rare case when the US and Chinese military will conduct maneuvers simultaneously in the same area.

  • Chinese Armed Forces in Paracel Islands
  • Reuters

“Our goal is to send our partners and allies an unambiguous signal about the seriousness of our intentions regarding security and stability in the region,” said the American rear admiral.

“I believe that this is really advisable and justifies our activities in this region,” he added.

The admiral refused to specify the coordinates in which the American aircraft carriers will operate, but he clarified that the US decision was not a response to the Chinese exercises. However, the increase in China’s military activity in the region caused the presence of US Navy ships, the military said.

Note that the strike groups of the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz aircraft carriers were deployed in the Asia-Pacific region at the beginning of June. This happened against the backdrop of an incident between Taipei and Beijing - the Taiwanese side accused the Chinese military of invading the air forces of the PRC in Taiwan's air defense zone.

Commenting on the current steps of the United States, experts note that the two carrier strike groups (AUGs) are a fairly serious military force.

“This is not enough for warfare, but as a demonstration of power - it is very significant. Now we can say that the parties are conducting a dialogue involving the display of military power, which is very in the spirit of the current American administration, ”explained Sergey Ermakov, an expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, in a RT commentary.

According to Yermakov, the appearance of US Navy carrier groups in the region is not surprising: even during the presidency of Barack Obama, Washington chose a strategy of confrontation with China.

“Almost 70% of the potential of the US Navy was reoriented to fulfill tasks in the Indo-Pacific region. There is a constant strengthening of the military group, ”said the expert.

Disputed Islands

Previously, the Pentagon expressed concern about the military maneuvers of Beijing, which China conducts in the South China Sea from July 1 to 5. As stated in a statement by the US defense department, the training zone includes disputed waters and territories. Therefore, carrying out maneuvers is counterproductive to the efforts that are being made to ease tensions in this area and can further complicate the situation, the Pentagon believes. In addition, the current exercise allegedly violates Beijing’s obligations as laid down in the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Recall that this document was signed on November 4, 2002 in the capital of Cambodia by representatives of the PRC and ASEAN countries. The parties pledged to resolve their territorial disputes peacefully, as well as to refrain from steps that could undermine stability in the region, including actions such as the settlement of uninhabited islands and reefs.

  • Paracel islands
  • AFP

In 2016, Beijing announced that the Paracel Islands are not subject to the declaration, as they are “undeniable” Chinese territory. The islands are an archipelago of 15 islands and reefs with a total area of ​​about 8 square meters. km, located in the South China Sea.

The archipelago, like the Spratly Islands, has become the subject of a territorial dispute between China, Vietnam and several other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, the Paracel Islands since the 1970s have been under the control of China, and in 1992 its authorities adopted the "Law of the PRC on Territorial Waters and Adjacent Areas", which provides for the sovereignty of the Asian power over all islands of the South China Sea.

Despite its modest size, the archipelago is of great strategic importance, as it is located on the shipping line connecting the Pacific and Indian oceans. In addition, rich deposits of oil and gas were found on the shelf of the islands.

The USA is also showing great interest in the situation in the South China Sea. Washington does not claim to have islands located here, but actively supports its regional partners, declaring its commitment to the principle of free shipping in this area. The interest of the United States is not unfounded - for example, all supplies of Middle Eastern energy carriers to the American market, as well as to Asia-Pacific countries, are transported precisely through the South China Sea.

Analysts recall that the contradictions between the US and China around the South China Sea have a very long history. 

“The parties have been bombarding each other for more than a decade. The fact that Trump unleashed a trade war with the PRC against this background only added to the systemic containment policy pursued by the United States. Beijing is not interested in a global conflict with Washington. Therefore, the PRC will respond to US provocations, but will not arrange them itself, ”Konstantin Blokhin, a researcher at the Center for Security Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said in an interview with RT.

In addition, as noted by the Director of the Center for East Asian and SCO Studies, Alexander Lukin, conducting exercises in even international waters does not violate international law.

“This is not the case, but the fact that the US sees these exercises as an attempt by the PRC to strengthen its territorial claims,” the expert explained in an interview with RT.

“Risk of accidental collisions”

Commenting on the activity of the PRC in the South China Sea, the head of the US State Department, Mike Pompeo, said that the region should maintain order that protects the rights of all states, regardless of their size and military potential. 

“America agrees with our friends in Southeast Asia: China’s military exercises in the disputed waters of the South China Sea are a serious provocation. We oppose China’s illegal claims. And the point, ”Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

America agrees with our Southeast Asian friends: The PRC's military exercise in disputed waters of the South China Sea is highly provocative. We oppose Beijing's unlawful claims. Period.

- Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 3, 2020

In Beijing, in turn, commented on the statements of the American side. Responding to a corresponding question from journalists, the Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that the Paracel Islands (or Xisha Islands, as they are called in China) are indisputably primordial Chinese territory.

“China’s naval exercises near the Paracel Islands fall under our sovereignty and cannot be condemned. The underlying cause of instability in the South China Sea is the large-scale military activity and the rattling of arms of a country tens of thousands of miles from our region, ”the diplomat emphasized.

  • Mike Pompeo
  • Reuters
  • © Manuel Balce Ceneta

It should be noted that the appearance of the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz aircraft carriers in the South China Sea is far from the first recent case of the transfer of American warships to the region. For example, in April, the Chinese military ousted an American military destroyer from the disputed area of ​​the South China Sea.

As the representative of the Chinese Armed Forces, Li Huamin, stated in connection with this incident, the "provocative" actions of the United States constituted "a serious violation of the relevant norms of international law, the sovereignty of China and its security interests." As a result, these actions "led to an artificial increase in threats to regional security and could lead to unforeseen incidents," according to Beijing.

According to experts, the appearance of carrier groups of the US Navy in the area of ​​military exercises of the Chinese Armed Forces also carries a potential "risk of accidental collisions."

“There is always such a risk, and such an incident can lead to a deepening conflict, although no one wants to start a war intentionally, of course,” Alexander Lukin believes.

According to Sergei Ermakov, the appearance of aircraft carriers in the area of ​​disputed territories will be a serious signal that the United States is not abandoning methods of military pressure.

“China will definitely draw conclusions from this step. He will take into account the appearance of the American group, but he will be quite restrained in military terms, ”Yermakov explained.

Konstantin Blokhin also agrees that the purpose of the appearance of the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz aircraft carriers in the South China Sea is to demonstrate the strength and firmness of the intentions of the United States.

“Washington makes it clear that it considers the region to be its sphere of influence and does not intend to give it to China. It is clear that the American leadership does not have the task of starting a war, but the United States is trying to intimidate the Chinese side and show its firmness to regional allies. For its part, China is now unlikely to adjust the scenario of the exercises so as not to show weakness. It is already clear that in general the tension in the region will grow, it will become more and more explosive, ”the expert predicted.