Monday, February 20, 2017

South China Sea may see new waves as Carl Vinson begins patrolling

According to the US Navy, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson began patrols in the South China Sea amid tensions on Saturday. It arrived at Naval Base Guam on February 10 after leaving San Diego.

The aircraft carrier belongs to the US Navy Third Fleet, which is in charge of the East Pacific and North Pacific region since WWII. But it is now sent on missions to the western Pacific. This proves that the US military will increase its provocation and involvement in the South China Sea. But, it is uncertain what the degree, scale and way the US intervention in the region will be.

After Carl Vinson arrives in the western Pacific, it can get familiar with the maritime situation, which facilitates its cooperation with aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in Yokosuka, Japan. These will contribute to the US' mission in this area.

According to Western media, one of the goals for Carl Vinson in the South China Sea is to implement the "freedom of navigation" cruise. The freedom of navigation claimed by Washington means US military vessels are free to go through territorial waters of other countries. This is an arbitrary principle.

China should strongly object to the US in this case. Having freedom of navigation is reasonable in certain areas in the open sea. But, in an exclusive economic zone over which a country has exclusive rights to explore and use the marine resources, the US' freedom of navigation does not apply and it may harm the economic interests of other countries.

Besides, China needs to continue its construction work on the islands and reefs in the South China Sea and protect its rights and interests. In addition, China has to make more efforts to improve its relationship with countries around the South China Sea, and reach a consensus that the territorial disputes should be solved through consultation and negotiation among the countries involved.

The US' frequent criticism of China's construction activities in the South China Sea is unjustified since the South China Sea islands are China's inherent territory.

By chastising China, the US is trying to obstruct China's construction and inviting its allies in the region to be involved so as to disturb the peace and stability in the South China Sea. Washington wants to make its hegemonic presence known.

In the past few years, the US administration under then president Barack Obama limited the US Navy operations in disputed areas such as the Nansha Islands and did not perform freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea from 2012 to 2015 so as to avoid unnecessary clashes.

After all, frequent US activities in the waters can easily lead to clashes with China. Obama's restriction has to some extent prevented such scenario from happening. Recently, a Chinese early warning aircraft nearly collided with a US Navy patrol plane. In matters like this, Trump needs to learn from his predecessor.

Among China's surrounding maritime regions, the South China Sea is one that attracts the most interest from the US, which thus poses the biggest threat to China.

The South China Sea is China's largest body of water with the most abundant natural resources. It occupies an important position on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Because of its significance, the Trump administration will certainly be involved in the region to curb China and maximize the US interests.

By sending Carl Vinson to the South China Sea, it appears that the US wants to create provocations and drive a wedge between China and the relevant countries. This may trigger frictions or even military clashes between China and the US.

The author is a Beijing-based naval expert. Follow us on Twitter at @GTopinion

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