A Show of Force in the South China Sea

Last week, the U.S. Navy sent a carrier battle group (CBG), based around the U.S.S. John C. Stennis (CVN-74) into the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Of course, Navy spokesmen said the presence of these ships in the area was part of a routine deployment, but with the governments of the United States, Japan and other regional powers condemning the Chinese government for placing weapons on disputed islands in the South China Sea, the Stennis CBG is the logical next step in escalating Freedom of Navigation (FON) exercises.

In October, the destroyer Lassen (DDG-82) patrolled within 12 miles of one of China’s man-made islands in the Spratly’s. The Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54), another Burke-class destroyer, challenged Chinese territorial claims in the Paracel Islands in January.

Both of those deployments set off military posturing and political arguments with the Chinese, but the deployment of the Stennis takes the FON exercises to a higher level. Chinas People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), much like the Soviets in the 1980s, have the military strength to match a destroyer – even an Aegis-equipped Burke – but have not had the time or ability to match the U.S. Navy in the building of aircraft carriers or operating them. Routing the Stennis CBG through the South China Seas illustrates this.

John C. StennisChina has repeatedly denied claims that they are militarizing the region; the official line is that “…it’s the U.S. sending the most advanced aircraft and military vessels to the South China Sea,” but that only makes sense if you ignore everything but the last six months of American FON exercises and conveniently forget that the Chinese have deployed surface to air missiles and fighter jets to the islands that they created.

The South China Sea is important to the United States for two primary reasons. The first is that a great deal of trade affecting the U.S. flows through that specific body of water. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent think tank, $5.3 trillion worth of trade goes through the region with $1.2 trillion being American trade. Cutting off or disrupting this trade route would have a massive and immediate effect on economies in the area and around the world.

The second reason is the security of the area and the sovereignty of countries that share the region. Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and other nations have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. Over the last several years, China has become more aggressive dealing with these territorial disputes. Most of the countries listed are all allies with the United States, in one way or another, but all of them have a vested interest in keeping China from expanding into their economic exclusion zones.

Sending the Stennis is a good start, but it won’t be easy keeping China’s naked power grab from continuing. The U.S. – and specifically the Navy – has interests all around the globe and tying up ships and resources in an area that is important, but inconvenient, doesn’t make many headlines – until the balloon goes up, of course.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

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Matt Towns

Matt is a former military journalist who spent 10 years in the US Navy. He served in various posts during his career, including a couple of deployments on the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). After leaving the Navy, he worked in management for a number of years before opening his own businesses. He ran those businesses until 2012 when he chose to leave the retail industry and return to writing. Matt currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to the US Patriot blog and other websites about political affairs, military activities and sailing.
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