Uncle Sam’s Big Stick continue its presence in South East Asian waters: Carrier Ronald Reagan conducts air operations in South China Sea

The Associated Press

Lt. Cmdr. Justin Felgar signals an F/A-18F Super Hornet to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) on Aug. 4, 2020, in the Pacific Ocean. (MC3 Erica Bechard/Navy)

BEIJING — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple territorial disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons. The waters are a major shipping route for global commerce and are rich in fish and possible oil and gas reserves.

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US STRIKE GROUP RETURNS TO SOUTH CHINA SEA

The U.S. Navy says the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and its strike group entered the South China Sea earlier this month.

China routinely objects to U.S. naval activity in the sea, especially when more than one strike group is present, as happened earlier this year, and when they involve operations with navies from other countries.

The strike group includes the carrier, its air wing, the guided missile cruiser USS Antietam, and the destroyers USS Mustin and USS Rafael Peralta.

The aircraft carriers Ronald Reagan and Nimitz Carrier Strike groups conduct dual-carrier operations as the Nimitz Carrier Strike Force July 6. (MC3 Jason Tarleton/Navy)

Together, the carriers and their strike groups are conducting tactical air defense exercises to “maintain warfighting readiness and proficiency,” the Navy said.Diana Stancy Correll

The force “conducted flight operations with fixed and rotary wing aircraft, and high-end maritime stability operations and exercises,” its commander said in a news release.

“Operations in the South China Sea continue to demonstrate enduring U.S. commitment to allies and partners, and a cooperative approach to regional stability and freedom of the seas,” the release said.

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CHINA HOLDING NEW MILITARY DRILLS

China is holding another round of military drills in the South China Sea amid an uptick in such activity in the area highlighting growing tensions.

The Maritime Safety Administration said the exercises would run from Monday through Sunday. It warned outside vessels to steer 5 nautical miles (9.26 kilometers) clear of the drill area but otherwise gave no details.

A Chinese H-6K bomber patrols the islands and reefs in the South China Sea in this undated photo. (Liu Rui/Xinhua via AP)
china said Thursday that long-range bombers were among the aircraft that took part in recent aerial drills over the South China Sea amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over the strategic waterway.The Associated Press

China announced late last month that it had held drills in the South China Sea involving long-range bombers and other aircraft.

Chinese forces have also confronted U.S. naval vessels conducting “freedom of navigation operations” near Chinese-held islands, as well as forces from Australia and countries that challenge China’s claim to the entire strategic waterway.

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CHINA SEEKS RENEWED ASEAN SUPPORT

China reportedly called together diplomats from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last month to seek their backing after a new diplomatic challenge from the U.S.

It’s not clear if the meeting, reported Monday by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper, yielded any immediate gains as talks between China and ASEAN remain in limbo.

The U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations has fired back at Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.The Associated Press

The meeting in Beijing was called three weeks after the U.S. rejected nearly all of Beijing’s South China Sea claims and in effect sided with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei in each of their territorial spats with Beijing. China responded by saying the U.S. was trying to sow discord and was meddling in an Asian dispute to flex its muscles and incite a confrontation.

According to the newspaper report, during the meeting in Beijing in early August, a Chinese official expressed concern about the risk from military activities by “non-regional countries,” a term Beijing uses to refer to the U.S. as well as its allies Japan and Australia.

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PHILIPPINES PROTESTS EQUIPMENT SEIZURE

The Philippine government filed a diplomatic protest after Chinese forces seized fishing equipment set up by Filipinos in disputed Scarborough Shoal.

China seized the shoal after a tense sea standoff in 2012, and the Philippines brought its disputes to international arbitration the following year. The tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, but Beijing continues to ignore and defy the decision.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said in a statement Thursday that the Philippines “also resolutely objected” to China continuing to issue radio challenges to Philippine aircraft patrolling over the disputed waters.

A Chinese government spokesperson responded Friday that its coast guard was enforcing the law in Chinese waters, and that the Philippine aircraft had harmed China’s sovereignty and threatened its security.

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