Strategic anxiety behind America's muscle-flexing in South China Sea

China Military Online
Li Wei
2020-04-27 22:28:32
Image of USS America LHA-6
By Wang Shichun

The Amphibious Assault Ship USS America LHA-6 recently came to the South China Sea with America’s rare maneuverable troops on the Pacific Ocean. Given the relatively stable South China Sea situation in April and America’s current shortage of maneuverable aircraft carrier troops, the unusual high-profile appearance of USS America demonstrates the US military’s strategic anxiety caused by troops vacuum in this period.

As such a period is likely to last for quite a while, the US military finds it necessary to affirm its presence in hotspot areas to forestall the possible military adventures by major countries in those regions.

The US deployment of a large surface vessel taskforce has much to do with the current situation in the South China Sea. It must be noted that the region has been in a half-year-long tension because of China’s legitimate and reasonable geological explorations, but it isn’t as serious as the HD-981 stand-off or the South China Sea arbitration in 2016. The interactions between China and surrounding countries are mainly through coast guard ships, fishery administration vessels, and ocean monitoring ships, which seldom engage in conflicts. All governments concerned have kept calm and restrained without hyping their disputes because all parties comply with international laws.

The US military approached Malaysia’s economic zone and oil-drilling ships on April 22, but didn’t mention this in its official statement, which only said the move was for the so-called “freedom of navigation” and supporting its allies and partners. That might be a proclamation of its “military presence”.

Another immediate reason for the moves of US military is that the PLA’s aircraft carrier task group Liaoning carried out scientific research training in the South China Sea. The PLA Navy conducted a cross-region maneuver of the Liaoning aircraft carrier task group on April 13, passing the Miyako Strait and the Bashi Channel to relevant waters of the South China Sea, which made the US troops anxious and vigilant.

For strategic anxiety, the PLA has at least the Liaoning aircraft carrier task group of the Northern Theater Command and the naval taskforces of the Southern Theater Command in the vast South China Sea, securing the military advantage in the region for the first time in years. This prompted the US military to urgently declare its presence there.

For strategic vigilance, the US is eager to understand the deployments and tactics of China’s aircraft carrier task group. Although no evidence shows that the USS America amphibious assault group approached the Liaoning group, the combination of its F-35B, with a long flight range, and its naval and air reconnaissance forces can still be able to detect Liaoning’s formation and the shift pattern of the carrier-borne aircraft. The deployment of USS America will collect information to help the US military develop tactics against Chinese carriers.

The “stalemate of aircraft carriers” sounds very intense, but in fact, the confrontation between Chinese and American navies seems still peaceful according to various reports.

There is a satellite photo that the USS America is surrounded by eight military ships, where China’s Type 054A frigates and Type 052D destroyers also showed up in the background of photos released by the US authorities. Rear Admiral Fred Kacher, commander of US Navy’s Amphibious Force, gave a rare comment on the China-US military standoff that all the confrontations remain safe and professional. This means that both parties have exercised restraint despite the confrontation, which is consistent with the governments’ reconciliatory attitude lately.

Disclaimer: This article is originally published on and translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of


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