The commander of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier deployed to Northeast Asia said on Tuesday that American forces wouldn’t be deterred by China’s warnings about the likelihood of conflict.
“We’re resolute in that we’re not going to be bullied, we’re not going to be coerced, and we are going to stay here and fly and operate in international norms,” said Rear Adm. Christopher Sweeney, who heads up Carrier Strike Group 11, a flotilla of warships led by the “supercarrier” USS Nimitz.
The Nimitz and its escorts arrived in the South Korean port of Busan on the East China Sea following back-to-back war games with Japan and South Korea. The strike group will wrap up a monthlong show of force when it conducts trilateral naval drills with both Asian allies next week.
China is challenging America’s right to operate with impunity in the region as its hard power grows. Its leaders are eager to end decades of U.S. reconnaissance and other military maneuvers near its coastline, eventually dominating its adjoining seas. Washington, however, is now engaged in an all-out containment effort to stop its rise, Beijing argues.
“We do not seek to contain China. We do not seek conflict with China,” Sweeney told Britain’s Sky News. The Navy, he said, would “sail, operate and fly wherever international law allows.”
Just last week, USS Milius, one of the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, challenged China’s sweeping maritime claims by sailing near the Paracel Islands, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea, known in Beijing as the Xisha Islands.
It was the Navy’s first freedom of navigation operation of the year, after five in 2022 and five the year before that, either around the Parcels or the Spratly Islands, another disputed island group in the sea.
China has consistently rejected a 2016 international tribunal ruling in The Hague that invalided its historical claims to almost the entire area.
Tan Kefei, a spokesperson for the Chinese defense ministry, said the U.S.’s maritime operation took place without China’s approval and undermined peace and stability in the region.
“We sternly demand the U.S. immediately stop such provocative behavior, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of every eventuality it causes,” Tan said.
The multi-domain U.S.-China rivalry is playing out in unpredictable plays in the military arena. The U.S. and its allies say Chinese forces are now more inclined to take risks to assert their country’s territorial claims, flying and sailing in ways that could lead to an accident, or worse.
“In the next couple of years, I think there could be an incident. One of the things we’re watching very closely is that the PLA Navy and the PLA Air Force—especially the air force—have been increasingly engaged in unsafe and unprofessional activities in the air,” Pentagon policy chief Colin Kahl said in November in reference to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
“They come up and say hello when we have surveillance aircraft in the region. They do the same with the Australians, with the Canadians in other cases. And sometimes they do this in quite profoundly dangerous ways,” he said.
The solution, China insists, is for America and its allies to stay away, according to Kahl: “China is increasingly doing that. They’re doing it over international airspace. And when you confront them…they’re just like: ‘You’re too close to China. If you don’t want these incidents to happen, don’t come close to China.'”
Source : Newsweek