USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) conducts flight operations in the East Sea. Photos by MC2 Tyra Campbell.
In a brief posting to its website on August 5, the country’s Maritime Safety Administration said in two notices that the exercises will be held in a location that corresponds with the Paracel chain of the strategic waterway. Both notices warned that entrance is “prohibited” but gave no other details.
It was unclear if the military exercises had kicked off on August 6, but they would come as the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, was in the East Sea (China calls it South China Sea) for regular patrols. Photos from the US Defense Department’s media pision showed that the carrier was in the waterway from August 5.
According to ABS-CBN News, the warship, longer than Paris' Eiffel Tower, can fit roughly 100 fighter jets and aircraft used for electronic warfare and anti-submarine operations.
The Reagan is one of 10 US Nimitz class aircraft carriers that used to be the biggest warships until the arrival of the USS Gerald Ford in 2017, which has yet to be deployed.
Washington has lambasted Beijing for its moves in the East Sea, including the construction of man-made islands — some of which are home to military-grade airfields and advanced weaponry.
The US fears the outposts could be used to restrict free movement in the waterway, which includes vital sea lanes through which about USD 3 trillion in global trade passes each year.
Beijing says it has deployed the advanced weaponry to the islets for defensive purposes, but some experts say this is part of a concerted bid to cement de facto control of the waters.
In a defense white paper released for the first time in years last month, China highlighted a new emphasis on “combat readiness and military training in real combat conditions” and China’s new warfighting capabilities in the Western Pacific and East Sea.
Beijing, the white paper said, “has organized naval parades in the South China Sea and conducted a series of live force-on-force exercises” while its air force “has conducted combat patrols in the South China Sea and security patrols in the East China Sea, and operated in the West Pacific.
On the same day (August 6), Fu Cong, director general of the Department of Arms Control at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a press conference that China will take countermeasures if the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Asia.
According to CGTN, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on August 3 in Australia that he was in favor of placing ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia relatively soon, possibly within months.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on August 5 that for some time the United States has been using China as an excuse on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and other issues, hyping up so-called "China's missile threat" in total disregard of the facts. This is just what the United States always does to shift blame to other countries.
Hua said despite strong international opposition, the United States chose to withdraw from the INF Treaty. Now it is hastily seeking to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Asia.
"This in fact reveals the real intention of the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty," said Hua. "We develop military power out of self-defense purpose. We do not intend to and will not pose a threat to any country".
"All of China's land-based short- and intermediate-range missiles are deployed within our territory, which testifies to the defensive nature of our defense policy," she added.
Vietnam always stressed that the country has full legal foundations and historical evidence affirming its sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos in accordance with international law.
China’s organisation of the seventh Sinan Cup Regatta in Hoang Sa has seriously infringed upon Vietnam’s sovereignty over this archipelago, running counter to the agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of sea issues between Vietnam and China and the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), as well as complicating the situation which is not conducive to the maintenance of peaceful, stable, and cooperative environment in the East Sea, the spokesperson stressed.
“Vietnam asks China to respect Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos without repeating the aforesaid activity and conducting others which intensely raise and complicate the situation in the region,” the Spokesperson of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Le Thi Thu Hang often said at the regular ministry press conferences in Hanoi.
Many international experts also have criticised China's illegal activities in the East Sea and demanded China to end its actions that have increased tensions in the region, to comply with international law and to implement trust-building measures to avoid conflicts./.