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Trump's risky nose-to-nose challenge to China in the South China Sea

July 7, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

David Andelman writes that the deployment of two US aircraft carrier strike groups into the South China sea for the largest military exercise in years just as China has been holding its own drills around the Paracel Islands threatens an accidental conflict that could quickly, even catastrophically, escalate.

Two aircraft carrier strike groups headed by the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Nimitz have moved into the South China Sea for the largest military exercises in years just as China has been holding its own drills around the Paracel Islands, which it seized from Vietnam in 1974 in a move the United States has never accepted.

Indeed, there's been considerable concern in the region that China has used international, particularly American, preoccupation with the Covid-19 pandemic, to reinforce its presence on vast stretches of both the Paracel and Spratly Islands and artificial islands built for clearly military purposes.

"There is nothing to support the claim that China is using Covid-19 to expand its presence in the South China Sea," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in May. Ironically, it's not the first time Trump tried to use an aircraft carrier strike group to intimidate an Asian power.

"The purpose [of the planned exercises] is to show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability," said Rear Admiral George Wikoff, the operation's commander, adding that the maneuvers would include "round-the-clock flights testing the striking ability of carrier-based aircraft. " Indeed, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted a week before exercises opened, "China cannot be allowed to treat the SCS [South China Sea] as its maritime empire. " A spokesperson for the fleet confirmed that these exercises had been long planned, and were not in response to global events.

At the same time, China has pressed ahead with its own efforts to build a blue-water navy capable of challenging American dominance of the Pacific, while cementing its hold over the South China Sea. Andrew S.

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