Friday, September 09, 2016

United States, China-Russia to Hold Naval Drills in Asia this Month

The world's three most powerful navies will hold large-scale naval exercises in Asia and the Pacific Ocean in September as they flex their muscles amid dangerous tensions arising from China's relentless bullying in the South China Sea despite world censure. 

The United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) will hold a major naval exercise in the western Pacific Ocean off Guam and the Mariana Islands from Sept. 12 to 23. This announcement comes more than a month after China and Russia said their navies will conduct routine naval drills in the disputed South China Sea, also in September.

While all three powers made it a point to steer clear of each other, the holding of their naval maneuvers in September suggests a game of one upmanship bolstered by shows of force. The naval exercises by both sides come at a time of mounting conflict in the contested waters of the South China Sea after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on July 12 ruled China doesn't have historic rights to own this body of water.

USPACOM said the U.S. Navy exercise called Valiant Shield 2016 will involve over a dozen surface warships, 180 aircraft and 18,000 military personnel. This fleet will be led by the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, based in Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan.

The carrier is currently the U.S. Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier in the Asia-Pacific. Joining her in the exercise at the Marianas Island Range Complex will be the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard; two amphibious vessels and other nine surface warships.

Some 180 aircraft from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Marine Corps will participate in the exercise. The U.S. Navy, however, said Valiant Shield has been held every two years since 2006.

China's Ministry of Defense said the naval exercise involving warships of the People's Liberation Army Navy and Russia's Pacific Fleet are aimed at strengthening their cooperation and aren't directed at any other country, tacitly the United States.

"This is a routine exercise between the two armed forces, aimed at strengthening the developing China-Russia strategic cooperative partnership," said defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun."The exercise is not directed against third parties."

In 2015, China and Russia held joint military drills in the Sea of Japan and the Mediterranean.

China, however, doesn't expect the China-Russia exercises to affect U.S. military activity or behavior in the South China Sea.

"We're not concerned about the safety of U.S. vessels in the region as long as interactions with the Chinese remain safe and professional, which has been the case in most cases," said one Chinese official.

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