Part of the Pacific Ocean might be becoming a very dangerous place.
Most American media might be consumed with teenagers stomping their feet about gun control these days, but American and international military planners are keeping their eyes on a large Chinese naval deployment in the South China Sea this week.
And the Chinese knew the world was watching.
According to Reuters, at least 40 Chinese naval vessels — including an aircraft carrier — embarked on a very public show of force in the South China Sea this week.
Satellite images show a flotilla led by submarines in “a line formation more suited to visual propaganda than hard military maneuvers,” Reuters reported.
The flotilla included China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, flanked by support vessels with aircraft overhead.
“It’s an incredible picture,” Jeffrey Lewis, a security expert at the California-based based Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies, told Reuters.
“That’s the big news to me. Confirmation that, yes, the carrier participated in the exercise.”
According to Stars and Stripes, China announced it would be holding training exercises in the region, which would sound fairly routine if it hadn’t been for bellicose statements coming out of China’s leadership recently, as well as ongoing tensions with the United States Navy.
It was only last week that Chinese President Xi Jinping used the closing of the 13th National People’s Congress — the communist country’s “parliament” — to declare that China is “ready to fight a bloody battle” to defend its place in the world, according to CNN.
The speech also may have contained a veiled threat regarding the independence of Taiwan, a country the United States is committed to defending, but which China considers to be a breakaway province.
“We should safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and achieve full unification of the motherland,” Xi said, according to CNN. Unification, he said, is “the aspiration of all Chinese people.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Global Times, an English-language tabloid published by the Chinese government, a Chinese “military expert and TV commentator” said the naval drills aren’t targeted at any particular country, but his language might have made readers think the intentions were not exactly peaceful.
The navy of China’s People’s Liberation Army is clearly preparing for action.
“The South China Sea and East China Sea will be primary battlegrounds. The PLA is committed to be battle-ready through simulated combat training,” Song Zhongping told the Global Times.
This isn’t like having some retired admiral tell a Fox News interviewer what the U.S. military might be up to. The Chinese media is controlled by the government. If a government-run newspaper wants a security official quoted as talking about “primary battlegrounds,” it means the Chinese government wants everyone to know it’s thinking about actual battlegrounds.
Meanwhile, a separate CNN article on Wednesday speculated that the Chinese moves could be at least in part a response to the United States conducting regular “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea.
That basically means the world’s most powerful navy is sending warships into what are considered to be international waters to prove that no one can stop any other ships from sailing there. The U.S. Navy has been patrolling the South China Sea for 70 years. It’s not going to stop with President Donald Trump in the White House.
But China claims a good deal of the South China Sea, which means it might try to stop those “freedom of navigation operations” to assert its sovereignty. This week’s show of force — very much intended to be seen by the United States military — is likely a way of letting Trump and the American military know that China is going to be serious about this.
So while the American media is infatuated with arrogant 17-year-olds from Parkland, Florida, the American military is no doubt watching China’s navy very carefully.
Because one part of the Pacific might be getting very dangerous.
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