Sunday, June 23, 2024

US Warship in South China Sea: Beijing fumes

An American warship, USS Ronald Reagan, is scheduled to call at the Vietnamese port of Danang on June 25, according to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will be visiting Vietnam from June 25 to 30, and the supercarrier’s arrival is timed to mark the 10th anniversary of the comprehensive partnership between the two nations, said Pham Thu Hang, spokesperson for the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at a press briefing.

“As we all are aware, Vietnam has been receiving port calls by naval vessels from other countries, including the upcoming visit by the USS Ronald Reagan. This is an ordinary exchange, meant to contribute to peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region and the world,” the spokesperson detailed.

Previously, only two US aircraft carriers made similar visits to the southeast Asian nation since the end of the Vietnam War. The USS Carl Vinson docked at Danang in 2018, and became the first such American combat vessel to visit the country in over 40 years. The USS Theodore Roosevelt visited Vietnam in March 2020, when Hanoi and Washington marked the 25th anniversary of normalizing bilateral ties.

The USS Ronald Reagan is the flagship for Carrier Strike Group 5, currently operating in the South China Sea, according to the Pentagon. The supercarrier had participated in drills with Japan, France and Canada from June 7-10 in the Philippine Sea and East China Sea as part of the Indo-Pacific Command’s (INDOPACOM) Large Scale Global Exercise 2023.

The South China Sea is a highly-contested area as China has maintained territorial disputes with Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei. The decades-long maritime dispute specifically centers around islands in the region that have significant, untapped reserves.

China has long been disputing ownership of several of the hydrocarbon-rich islands, specifically the Paracel archipelago, the Spratly Islands, and the Scarborough Shoal. Vietnam’s claims to the islands were also addressed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ press conference on Thursday.

“As constantly reiterated, Vietnam has sufficient historical grounds and legal evidence to assert its sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands in line with international law. All activities of parties in the Paracel and Spratly islands conducted without Vietnam’s permission are violations of Vietnamese sovereignty over these islands,” the spokesperson said.

As the territorial affiliation of a number of islands in the South China Sea continues to be a subject of disputes, the situation has been further exacerbated by the passage of the US warships in the region, which the Chinese Foreign Ministry has condemned as a violation of international law.

In April, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) entered the South China Sea near the Spratly (Nansha) Islands in order to “assert navigational rights and freedoms”, as per the US 7th Fleet. In March, USS Milius entered the South China Sea near the Paracel (Xisha) Islands, which China sees as its territory. This prompted Beijing to condemn the actions of the United States, saying the US destroyer “illegally entered” the area “without Chinese government’s permission … undermining the peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

The US warship’s visit to Vietnam comes as part of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy designed to counter Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region. The United States has been making moves to bolster ties with Vietnam – an important Southeast Asian trade partner. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in April, voicing Washington’s desire to upgrade ties. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel J. Kritenbrink stated earlier, Vietnam is “one of America’s most important partners in the region.”

While peddling the ‘China threat’ narrative, Washington has been sending warships and military aircraft as part of its military muscle-flexing near China’s territorial waters and airspace. In addition to the US being part of several alliances and partnerships throughout the region right now like AUKUS, which groups it with Australia and the UK, and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) with Australia, India, and Japan, Washington also gained access to four new military bases in the Philippines.

Earlier this year, the US also signed a defense and maritime surveillance pact with Papua New Guinea.

In response, China warned that to push for “such alliances in the region” is “a way of kidnapping regional countries and fuelling confrontation, which will only plunge the Asia-Pacific into a whirlpool of disputes and conflicts”.

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