BEIJING — The Chinese military has warned the United States against a military build-up in the South China Sea, stating that Beijing will adopt “countermeasures” if faced with a security threat, after it was reported that Washington has deployed a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to the region.
According to a US Navy statement, the USS Carl Vinson and its escorts of a guided-missile cruiser and two guided-missile destroyers will leave the continental US over Thursday (Jan 5) and Friday (Jan 6) for the Western Pacific.
It had earlier been reported that Pentagon is considering whether to deploy mobile artillery units in the region.
Mr Zhao Xiaozhuo, the director of the Center on China-US Defense Relations at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Science told state-owned China Daily on Wednesday (Jan 4) that the USS Carl Vinson deployment is a new approach to containing China in the South China Sea.
“We will see how long the USS Carl Vinson will stay here (in the South China Sea). Is it just a cruise or a long stay or to hold exercises? And how far is it from the Chinese-occupied islands? We’ll keep a close watch,” he said.
Referring to the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson and possible mobile artillery unit placement in the South China Sea, Mr Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told the daily that “China will certainly take countermeasures” should US forces pose a threat to Chinese interests in the South China Sea.
The US Navy statement, published earlier this week, said the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group (CSG) will deploy with a total of some 7,500 personnel and will focus on maritime security operations and theatre security cooperation efforts.
The CSG will then conduct “bilateral exercises in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to include anti-submarine warfare, maneuvering drills, gunnery exercises, and visit, board, search and seizure subject matter expert exchanges”, the statement added.
While the US Navy has not stated whether the Carl Vinson CSG will enter the South China Sea, Taiwan News reported that the American aircraft carrier and China’s sole aircraft carrier Liaoning could be patrolling the same body of water in the South China Sea in the days to come.
Meanwhile, a Jan 1 report in the international affairs publication The National Interest stated that senior American military planners are mulling placing mobile artillery units in parts of the South China Sea.
The report added that this deployment is an option being considered in the Pentagon to counter Chinese placement of surface-to-air missiles on South China Sea islands.
US warships have been conducting what they call “freedom of navigation” patrols through the South China Sea over the past year as concerns grow about the Chinese construction of airstrips and docks on disputed reefs and islands.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$7.24 trillion) in shipborne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
Tensions spiked last month after the Chinese navy seized an American underwater drone operating in the South China Sea, just weeks ahead of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on Jan 20.
Beijing returned the equipment several days later.
Exercises by a Chinese task force centred on the aircraft carrier Liaoning since last month have also unnerved China’s neighbours, especially at a time of heightened strain with self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.
However, China says that the Soviet-built Liaoning and other ships are conducting routine exercises that comply with international law.
On Thursday (Jan 5), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told outgoing American Secretary of State John Kerry that the two countries should maintain the proper direction in developing relations.
Mr Wang made the comment in a telephone call with Mr Kerry, according to a statement on his ministry’s website.
Mr Kerry also reportedly said that Washington will stay committed to the one-China policy.