|China urges US to immediately withdraw or faces proper response|
|South China Sea's sea-related issues exchanging between Vietnam and China's views|
|Vietnam urges China to well control maritime conflicts at Bien Dong Sea|
|The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) steam in formation on July 6, 2020, in the South China Sea. (Photo: US Navy)|
Last Tuesday, the US Navy destroyer USS Ralph Johnson conducted its sixth FONOP this year in the South China Sea. And, two times this month, Esper noted, the US Navy has conducted dual carrier operations in the waterway with two carrier strike groups.
China has bristled at the presence of US Navy aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. The Global Times, controlled by China's Communist Party, wrote earlier this month that the "South China Sea is fully within the grasp of the Chinese People's Liberation Army," and "any US aircraft carrier movement in the region is solely at the pleasure of the PLA."
Replying to this statement, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the U.S. is unfazed by the comment.
“I don’t know what the Chinese meant by that hollow statement about American carriers being there by the pleasure of the PLA or something,” Esper said Tuesday during an event with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Look, American aircraft carriers have been in the South China Sea in the Indo-Pacific since World War II and we’ll continue to be there, and we’re not going to be stopped by anybody.", quoted by Military Times.
“We’re going to sail, fly and operate where international law allows and we do that, again, to assert international law and rights to back up the sovereignty of our friends and partners and to reassure them that we will be there to defend those things,” Esper said.
He said at a virtual International Institute for Strategic Studies event that China “continues to engage in systematic rule-breaking, coercion, and other malign activities, and most concerning, to me, is the People’s Liberation Army continues its aggressive behavior in the East and South China Sea.”
"We hope the [Chinese Communist Party] will change its ways, but we must be prepared for the alternative," he added. "We must uphold the free and open system that has secured peace and prosperity for millions and defend the principles that undergird it."
|Aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 5 and Carrier Air Wing 17 fly in formation over the Nimitz Carrier Strike Force (CSF). The USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Groups are conducting dual carrier operations in the Indo-Pacific as the Nimitz CSF (Photo: US Navy)|
The secretary said that the US military is positioning forces to counter Chinese behavior and support US policies, revealing that the US conducted more freedom-of-navigation operations challenging unlawful movement restrictions and excessive claims in 2019 than it has any year in the past four decades. "We will keep up the pace this year," he said.
According to Business Insider, Esper's remark follows a statement last week from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejecting many of China's maritime claims and criticizing its efforts to enforce its will.
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement July 13, "Beijing's claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them," Pompeo said, adding that "the PRC's predatory world view has no place in the 21st century."
Despite Esper's tough rhetoric on China's behavior, he extended an olive branch to Beijing Tuesday, saying that he is planning to visit China before the end of the year to "establish the systems necessary for crisis communications and reinforce our intentions to openly compete in the international system in which we all belong." If he travels to China, it will be Esper's first trip to China as secretary of defense.
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