- Lamar Salter
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Chief of US Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said on Tuesday the US and China “will meet each other more and more on the high seas” after a Chinese warship came close to a US ship in the disputed South China Sea.
The Chinese vessel came within 45 yards of the USS Decatur during a “freedom of navigation” sail in late September, US Vice President Mike Pence said this month.
The US mission was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, where Chinese, Japanese, and some Southeast Asian navies operate.
“China’s aggression was on display this week,” Pence said after the incident, vowing that the US “will not stand down.”
In the weeks since, a US Navy research ship has visited Taiwan and two US warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has bolstered its presence around the island country.
In mid-October, during a meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the US and its partners in the region would “continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand.”
“We cannot accept [China’s] militarization of the South China Sea or any coercion in this region,” he added.
Data gathered by the US Defense Department also shows Chinese ships have entered foreign Exclusive Economic Zones, which can extend up to 230 miles from a country’s coast, despite its own frequent protests about other countries doing that in areas claimed by Beijing.
- US Defense Department
China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which about $3 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have claims.
In 2016, an international tribunal ruled against Chinese territorial claims in a case brought by Manila.
China’s navy has also ventured farther afield in recent years. India has been tracking Chinese subs in the Indian Ocean since 2013. Chinese subs have also made port calls in Sri Lanka – a major issue for India – and in Karachi, Pakistan.
Chinese navy vessels have been taking part in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden along Africa’s east coast, where Beijing has its first overseas base. Officials in the region believe Beijing is trying to send a bigger message.
“What role can submarines play against pirates and their dhows?” an Indian defense source said in mid-2017.
- Thomson Reuters
China’s navy has done naval exercises with Russia since 2012. In July 2017, they held their first joint naval exercise in the Baltic Sea.
China has also partnered with Russian naval forces in the Mediterranean – a presence that NATO officials have noticed.
China’s relationship with the Russian navy should be watched “with interest” as it grows, said Richardson, speaking at an event co-organized by the US embassy in Jakarta.
Beijing is not totally smitten on Moscow, however.
During Russia’s Vostok 2018 military exercises, in which thousands of Chinese ground and naval forces participated, China sent an uninvited surveillance ship to shadow Russian ships during the at-sea portion of the drills.
(Reporting for Reuters by Fanny Potkin; editing by Nick Macfie)