China holds 5-day military exercise in disputed South China Sea

Special to BenarNews
2022.07.18
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China holds 5-day military exercise in disputed South China Sea An F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) on July 16, 2022.
U.S. Navy

China announced a large-scale military exercise in the South China Sea after an American aircraft carrier sailed near the contested Spratly Islands and a U.S. Navy destroyer conducted consecutive sail-throughs.

The Hainan Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) issued a navigation warning on Friday, saying military drills would take place from Saturday to Wednesday in a large area overlapping the Paracel Islands, an archipelago contested by China, Taiwan and Vietnam but controlled entirely by China.

A navigation warning is a public advisory notice to mariners about changes to navigational aids and current marine activities or hazards such as military exercises.

According to the coordinates provided in the Hainan MSA warning, the planned drills cover an area of approximately 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) east of Hainan Island, which is located some 350 km (220 miles) from Vietnam’s port city of Danang.

China often holds military exercises at short notice as a response to U.S. naval activities in disputed areas of the South China and East China Seas.

On July 13, the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group entered the South China Sea on its first deployment there this year. The strike group is led by the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).

It was operating around the Spratly Islands at the same time as the USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer, conducted two consecutive freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea, a rare event.

China labelled the U.S. FONOPs as “trespasses.”

Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam hold territorial claims over the sea but the Chinese claim is by far the most expansive.

greyhound.jpeg
A C-2A Greyhound takes off from the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan, July 16, 2022. [U.S. Navy]

‘Provoking China’

Chinese state media called the latest U.S. naval activities “an escalated provocation” and Chinese analysts warned of “an unwanted conflict.”

By operating in the South China Sea, the U.S. “wants to provoke China in its core interests, create crises and hype tensions with the strategic goal of containing China,” the Global Times quoted military expert Song Zhongping as saying.

On Sunday, the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI), a Beijing-based Chinese think-tank, detailed the USS Ronald Reagan’s movements since it departed Guam on July 1, saying the carrier would probably make a port call in Danang, in central Vietnam.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on the plan earlier this month, citing Vietnamese sources close to the matter, but the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command declined to confirm it. RFA is an online news service affiliated with BenarNews.

There were talks about a similar planned visit by another aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, in May but that didn’t materialize.

In a statement, the U.S. 7th Fleet said that “carrier operations in the South China Sea are part of the U.S. Navy’s routine operations in the Indo-Pacific.”

“Our presence in the South China Sea demonstrates America’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it quoted Capt. Fred Goldhammer, commanding officer of USS Ronald Reagan, as saying.

The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), named after the 40th U.S. President, is a Nimitz-class, nuclear-powered supercarrier, homeported in Yokosuka, Japan.

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