The U.S. and China have been at each other’s neck again this week, in what observers tagged one of the world’s potential military flashpoints.
What’s the latest between them?
The U.S. Navy had conducted a “freedom of navigation operation” on Tuesday near a Chinese-held island in the South China Sea. In reaction, China called the action illegal and said it mobilized naval and air assets to issue warnings and drive off the ship, an account of the event that was disputed by the Navy and Pentagon. “I know that there has been some reporting that China essentially ejected our ship from the area, that is not true”, the Pentagon said through its spokesman, Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder.
Is this a deliberate attempt to trigger Beijing?
China argues that the U.S. Navy’s action “seriously violated” its sovereignty and security, describing it as “further ironclad evidence of its pursuit of navigational hegemony and militarization of the South China Sea”. “China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters”, said Tian Junli, the spokesperson for the Southern Theater Command, Air Force Col. On its part, the Navy insists that its guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law.”
What does the U.S. want in the area?
To stop China’s continued expansion in the area. Adm. John C. Aquilino, the commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Fleet, revealed to The Associated Press in March that China has completely militarized at least three of the numerous islands it constructed in the disputed waters, outfitting them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, lasers, and jamming gear. He described it as a move that is getting more and more aggressive and poses a threat to neighboring countries. And in July, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged China to abide by a 2016 arbitration decision that invalidated Beijing’s extensive claims in the South China Sea due to historical considerations.