Two United States Navy aircraft carriers and numerous warships have been sent to the South China Sea for a series of military exercises.
Lt. Joe Jeiley, a spokesman for the Seventh Fleet, told CNN that the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Groups are conducting “dual carrier operations” in the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea.
“Operating two carrier strike groups in the Philippine Sea and South China Sea provides advanced training opportunities for our forces and provides combatant commanders with significant operational flexibility should those forces be called upon in response to regional situations,” Jeiley said.
Jeiley was careful to clarify that this military advancement is not a response to any political or world events, but just a standard operation that would be happening regardless of the current geopolitical climate. In fact, the operations have been planned for a long time now, according to military officials. However, China is also scheduled to conduct military drills of its own in the same area at the same time, which could lead to a potentially dangerous interaction.
These drills come at a time where tensions are already growing between China and the United States, as well as some western allies in the region, including India, where deadly clashes at the border resulted in numerous casualties on both sides. The Chinese government is also doing its best to expand political influence in areas like Taiwan and Hong Kong, a move that has drawn criticism and even sanctions for western nations.
The US Navy occasionally challenges Beijing’s claims to the islands by conducting so-called “Freedom of Navigation Operations,” the most recent of which was carried out in May. US officials promised that the military exercises will not be conducted close to any of the contested islands in the region.
However, the US and Chinese governments are not happy with one another’s presence in the region, and are each accusing the other of provocation. Each also claims that they are doing nothing out of the ordinary in the area, and are simply conducting business as usual.
Yun Sun, East Asia Program senior associate at the Stimson Center research organization in Washington told VoaNews that the Chinese government should be expected to match any show of force exhibited in the region by US powers.
“The current Chinese policy is if (the) U.S. does something, we need to respond in proportion at the same level of intensity and at the same level of seriousness,” Yun said.
Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, says that China believes this part of the world to be its sphere of influence and thus assumes complete power to do whatever they wish in the area. Conversely, anyone acting against their wishes in the region could be considered a threat, regardless of their standing with nearby nations.
“China would consider this part of the world, the regions around South China Sea, to be its sphere of influence. This is perhaps akin to the Monroe Doctrine, that European powers should not interfere in the Americas, and so on,” Oh said.