This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reproduced with permission.
China has announced a large-scale military exercise in the South China Sea as the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan sailed near the Spratly Islands and a US destroyer made back-to-back crossings.
The Hainan Maritime Security Administration (MSA) issued a shipping warning on Friday, saying military exercises would take place from Saturday to Wednesday in a large area straddling the Paracel archipelago, disputed by China, Taiwan and the Vietnam but fully controlled by China.
A Navigational Warning is a public notice to mariners about changes to navigational aids and ongoing marine activities or hazards such as military exercises.
According to the coordinates provided in the Hainan MSA warning, the planned exercises cover an area of about 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) east of Hainan Island, about 350 kilometers (220 miles) from the Vietnamese port city of Danang.
China often holds short-term military exercises in response to U.S. naval activity in contested areas of the South and East China Seas.
Last Wednesday, the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group entered the South China Sea on its first deployment this year. The strike group is led by the US Navy’s only forward deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).
It operated around the Spratly Islands at the same time as the US guided missile destroyer USS Benfold conducted two consecutive freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) in the South China Sea, a rare occurrence.
China called the US FONOPs “offences”.
Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam hold territorial claims to the sea, but the Chinese claim is by far the most extensive.
Chinese state media called the latest US naval activities “increased provocation” and Chinese analysts warned of “unwanted conflict”.
Military expert Song Zhongping was quoted by the Global Times as saying that by operating in the South China Sea, the United States “wants to provoke China in its core interests, create crises and exacerbate tensions with the ‘strategic objective of containing China’.
On Sunday the South China Sea Sounding Initiative (SCSPI), a Beijing-based Chinese think tank, detailed the movements of the USS Ronald Reagan since leaving Guam on July 1, saying the carrier is likely to stop in Danang in central Vietnam.
RFA reported on the plan earlier this month, citing Vietnamese sources familiar with the matter, but US Pacific Command declined to confirm.
There were talks of a similar visit planned by another aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, in May, but that did not materialize.
The US 7th Fleet said in a statement that “carrier operations in the South China Sea are part of routine US Navy operations in the Indo-Pacific.”
“Our presence in the South China Sea demonstrates America’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Captain Fred Goldhammer, commanding officer of USS Ronald Reagan.
The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), named after the 40th President of the United States, is a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered super aircraft carrier based in Yokosuka, Japan.