KEY POINTS

  • Rear Admiral George Wikoff: The two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are there to “show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability”
  • China has been running drills since July 1 near the Paracel Islands
  • China shrugged off any criticism of its drills Friday and suggested the U.S. was to blame for increasing tensions

The United States and China always point to each other when asked who is stirring up trouble over issues like the coronavirus or China's claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea (SCS). The war of words becomes more intense when the conversation turns to talk of each other’s military strengths.  

Rear Admiral George Wikoff told the Wall Street Journal the purpose of the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan, two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers currently in the SCS, is to “…show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability.” A U.S. Navy official confirmed Wikoff’s comments to Fox News.

Chinese statements were expressed by the state-run Global Times that wrote, "The SCS is fully within the grasp of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), and any U.S. aircraft carrier movement in the region is solely at the pleasure of the PLA, which has a wide selection of anti-aircraft carrier weapons like the DF-21D and DF-26 'aircraft carrier killer' missiles."

The publication went on to note their weapons could destroy the carriers at any moment.

The criticism directed at Chinese activity in the SCS includes:

  • Drills the Chinese have been running since July 1 near the Paracel Islands. They have been criticized by the Pentagon as well as other countries, especially Vietnam with its conflicting claims with China over the island group
  • The Philippines is not happy about the drills because Chinese maritime officials have prohibited all vessels from navigating within the area of the PLA maneuvers that were expected to last five days
  • Vietnam and the Philippines have added to the criticism of the Chinese drills, warning they could create tension in the region and impact Beijing's relationship with its neighbors

China shrugged off any criticism of its drills Friday and suggested the U.S. was to blame for increasing tensions.

Activities by the U.S. in the SCS, according to Wikoff, are to support a free and open Indo-Pacific and promote an international rules-based order. He added the American exercises included "round-the-clock flights testing the striking ability of carrier-based aircraft.”

The U.S. Air Force sent another message to China in the form of a B-52 bomber that flew from Louisiana on a 28-hour mission to train with jets from the two aircraft carriers. Exercises by the U.S. in the Western Pacific are not unusual and, according to the U.S. Navy, there were recently three carriers in the region.

If the SCS was not a major global shipping route and devoid of untapped natural resources, the matter of who is causing the rising tensions would be a moot point. But with $3 trillion of trade in the waters each year and the rich oil, gas, and fishing resources, many countries are laying claim to the waters that often lead to disputes, especially when China considers the entirety of the SCS as it’s own.

The U.S. has no land claims, but it provides a balance of power in the SCS and stands to benefit indirectly if its allies can prevail over China.  

The United States runs regular operations in the South China Sea The United States runs regular operations in the South China Sea Photo: AFP / Catherine LAI