U.S. Sends Carrier Strike Group Into China’s Claimed Territory
The U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier strike group into the hotly contested South China Sea to “operate routinely” according to military officials, but other experts claim it’s a show of force to demonstrate America’s commitment to keeping the peace there. China doesn’t have the naval power to match the American armada, but it’s building up fast.
According to USA Today, the group consists of the Nimitz–class nuclear-powered carrier USS John C. Stennis, three Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers, and a Ticonderoga-class missile cruiser. The ships sailed into the South China Sea sometime on March 3 or early March 4.
The territory in the South China Sea around the Spratly Islands is claimed by six different countries, but the one that is causing the most concern is China.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the country has been building a “great wall of sand” that consists of new islands built on existing reefs and rocks. China claims the islands and the territorial waters around them, making their claims continuously expanding.
The issue became more heated when on February 24 it was revealed that China had deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile battery on the nearby Paracel Islands. U.S. Pacific Command head Adm. Harry Harris testified before Congress that day.
“In my opinion China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea. You’d have to believe in a flat Earth to believe otherwise.”
U.S. military officials downplayed the recent carrier strike group deployment in a statement from Cmdr. Clay Doss, explaining it was nothing out of the ordinary.
“Our ships and aircraft operate routinely throughout the Western Pacific — including the South China Sea — and have for decades. In 2015 alone, Pacific Fleet ships sailed about 700 combined days in the South China Sea.”
Jerry Hendrix, analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. and former Navy captain, told USA Today that carrier strike group is a clear demonstration.
“Clearly the Navy and (Department of Defense) is demonstrating its full commitment to presence and freedom of navigation in the region. With the full carrier strike group and the command ship, the Navy is showing the scope of its interests and ability to project presence and power around world.”
According to the statement from the carrier group, some officials serving in the region report more regularly being shadowed by Chinese vessels, although encounters are generally characterized by good communications between professional mariners.
Still, the rhetoric from above has been far more confrontational. The spokeswoman for the China’s National People’s Congress warned after Adm. Harry Harris’ testimony that accusations about militarization can “lead to a miscalculation of the situation.”
She then insisted that it’s the U.S. that’s sending the most advanced weaponry to the South China Sea.
Popular Mechanics recently reported that China is aiming to put its own aircraft carrier strike groups into the area to “defend China’s sovereignty of the islands and reefs, maritime rights and overseas interests.”
The country currently has one carrier, an old Soviet model that was upgraded to modern standards, and a second one in production. It’s not clear how many of the carrier strike groups China plans to form, but some already fear a naval arms race centering around the South China Sea.
[Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dusty Howell/U.S. Navy via Getty Images]