US aircraft carrier activity adds fuel to South China Sea tensions

Ignoring warnings from the Chinese side, the Philippine vessel Unaisa May 1 made an unprofessional and dangerous U-turn and deliberately rammed into a Chinese Coast Guard vessel off China's Renai Reef in the South China Sea on December 10, 2023. Photo: Screenshot from video clip obtained by Global Times

By Liu Xuanchun

A US aircraft carrier has reportedly entered the South China Sea

The US Navy's Carl Vinson carrier strike group has departed Singapore following a port visit and is currently in the South China Sea, USNI News, the US Navy's news service, reported earlier this week.

The carrier strike group is one of the few extra-regional naval forces operating in Southeast Asia over the Christmas period as other navies wrap up their deployments, USNI News said.

By sailing an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea over Christmas, the US wants to keep the South China Sea issue a hot topic and maintain its military presence in the region, said Wei Dongsu, a Beijing-based military expert. Global Times on Wednesday.

A show of military force in a tense maritime region amid tensions goes in the opposite direction to peace and stability in the South China Sea, Wei said.

Chen Xiangmiao, director of the World Naval Research Center at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday that U.S. aircraft carrier activity in the South China Sea is nothing new, and such activities are usually aimed at deterring China. Support for US allies so that the US can consolidate its hegemony.

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The US aircraft carrier's entry into the South China Sea this time adds fuel to ongoing tensions between China and the Philippines in the region and sends the wrong signal to the Philippines. Chen said.

Since August, the Philippines has repeatedly sent ships to illegally trespass beyond Chinese islands and reefs in the South China Sea and its efforts have been curbed by the Chinese coast guard. One of the centers of Philippine provocations is Renai Jiao (also known as Renai Reef), where the Philippines has made several attempts to send construction materials to reinforce an old warship that has been illegally grounded there.

On Tuesday, Philippine military spokesman Medel Aguilar accused China of „carrying out dangerous maneuvers” and „committing all sorts of violations,” adding that the Philippines was „not provoking a conflict in the South China Sea,” Reuters reported on Tuesday.

In response, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning told a regular press conference on Tuesday that recent developments involving China and the Philippines in the South China Sea are due to the Philippines' changing policy and position. To honor its obligations, violate international law and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and deliberately violate China's sovereignty and provocations, and the responsibility rests with the Philippines.

China will resolutely protect its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, Mao said, adding, „The Philippines will make a wise choice, return to the correct path of properly handling disputes through dialogue and consultation, and work properly with China to handle and manage the situation at sea.”

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Mao's comments were a stark warning with a clear formula, and Wei said that if the Philippines insists on acting as a pawn of the United States in carrying out provocations in the South China Sea, it is only lifting a rock to put it on its own feet.

The Philippines is making a strategic miscalculation in underestimating China's determination to protect its rights and stability in the South China Sea, and mistakenly believes the US has the ability to contain China, Chen said.

Several military experts told the Global Times that the US Navy used to conduct provocative, large-scale carrier exercises in the South China Sea, but that has changed in recent years.

While US ships still operate in the South China Sea, they do not stay in the region for long. Because the U.S. Navy understands the Chinese military's ability to target large moving warships at its doorstep, significantly reducing aircraft survivability. Carriers, experts say, U.S. carrier operations in the South China Sea now serve as a political and diplomatic tool rather than a true military tool.

Experts urged the Philippines to make independent decisions that actually fit its national interests, and not rely on the United States, which it sees only as a pawn.

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