US warship in South China Sea as part of regular deployment shows country’s commitment to region
“Countries in this part of the world are modernising their militaries, expanding their military budgets at the fastest pace ever seen.”
Commanders of the 5,000-strong crew on board the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz, which CNA got a seat on, said their job is clear – maintaining peace and stability and minimising potential conflict at sea, along with carrying out humanitarian missions during deployments that can be as long as eight months.
Chinese leaders may, however, see it differently.
The presence of US warships plays a key role in countering China, a nation White House officials have said poses the “most comprehensive and serious challenge” to the US.
In recent years, Beijing has also started sending warships to the South China Sea after building island bases in the disputed waters. Last month, China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier was reported to have sailed close to the American territory of Guam.
China considers much of the area its own, despite competing claims from countries like the Philippines and Vietnam.
“The Chinese are deploying their military assets into the region now because they can. They are now able to secure whatever claims they make in the South China Sea and back it up with actual military assets instead of just rhetoric,” Mr Ridzwan said.
He noted, however, that the moment a US warship appears, these Chinese ships tend to “disappear”, which shows that the US military’s presence has some sort of a deterrent effect on China’s behaviour in the region.
The US defence establishment said China is “seeking to undermine US alliances and security partnerships” in the Indo Pacific and it has been moving to rally allies to the region.
Other navies have also started sailing to the South China Sea in the last five years, including those belonging to France, the UK and Australia.
“Each of these countries deploy their latest warships to this part of the world because they feel that they have a stake in the security of the region, given the volume of trade that passes through the South China Sea,” Mr Ridzwan said.
RISK OF MISCALCULATIONS
While the presence of warships can project stability and security, there is always a risk of miscalculations, especially when there is no unified code of conduct, he cautioned.
“For example, when a warship is deployed into what we consider as your maritime territory, and they do not respond to your request to leave. What should you be doing?” he asked.