The US has intensified its military activity in China’s neighborhood by sending its amphibious assault vessel, USS Makin Island, to the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
The US Navy also carried out a freedom of navigation operation near India’s Lakshadweep Islands on April 7, according to an official statement. The US 7th Fleet said Wednesday that the USS John Paul Jones “asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands inside India’s exclusive economic zone without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.”
The Biden administration has reiterated Washington’s stance against Chinese aggression and the latest move is aimed at defending the Philippines’ territorial claim in the region.
“An armed attack against the Philippines’ armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, including in the South China Sea, will trigger our obligations under the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
For the past three days, the American amphibious-ready group (ARG) USS Makin Island traversed the contested waters, conducting military exercises on board, along with the amphibious transport dock USS San Diego, according to the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI), a Beijing-based think tank.
— U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (@INDOPACOM) April 8, 2021
Tensions have been rising around the South China Sea since Beijing passed a coast guard law which stated that it will ”take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea”.
China wants all the littoral states to agree to the ‘Nine-Dash Line’, claiming the sea and all the islands that are contained within the line as its territory.
Smaller powers such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan, have been coerced and intimidated by Chinese presence in the past decade. The South China Sea is also a strategic link between the Malaca Strait and the Pacific Ocean. Thus, the US is willing to keep it outside the purview of a hostile state at any cost.
Over the past few years, the US has sailed military ships across the disputed areas in a zigzag pattern to assert that the South China Sea is part of the free high sea and not China’s territorial waters.
Meanwhile, Beijing continues to flex its muscles to assert claims over other disputed territories. On Monday, China conducted simultaneous exercises with its aircraft carrier Liaoning on both sides of the island of Taiwan.
The Taiwan Defense Ministry stated that Chinese warplanes, including a Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft and a KJ-500 early warning aircraft, encroached upon Taiwan’s (self-declared) Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). In response, Taiwan sent aircraft to obstruct the PLA jets while the USS John S McCain traveled through the Taiwan Strait to probably warn against such actions.
“We will push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.