Speaking on Tuesday, US secretary of defence Mark Esper confirmed the United States was conducting more patrols in South China Sea all in an effort to send a signal to China.
The US “rejects attempts by any nation to use coercion or intimidation to advance international interests at the expense of others”, he said during a visit to the Philippines another country claiming the controversial region.
He also urged nations with South China Sea claims to assert their sovereign rights to put China “on the right path”.
The US has sent two litoral ships into the region
The USS Montgomery, one of the ships sent
“The clear signal that we’re trying to send is not that we oppose China per se, but that we all stand for international rules and international laws and that we think China should abide by them as well,” Esper said.
In previous freedom of navigation missions most vessels were guided missile destroyers or cruisers.
However, littoral combat ships are uniquely suited to the South China Sea according to a report by the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, a think tank affiliated with Peking University’s Institute of Ocean Research.
The report said the ships’ low draught gave them better access to shallow waters, which would help the effort to carry out reconnaissance missions in the scattered reefs of the disputed Spratly chain.
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The US are increasing their attack power in the area
However, Hong Kong-based military affairs commentator Song Zhongping said the ships do not pose a significant threat to Chinese-controlled islands and reefs in the South China Sea because they lacked stealth capabilities and were fragile.
“In response, the Chinese side could strengthen land-based anti-ship missiles and planes or even the deployment of aircraft carrier in the future,” Mr Song said.
Mr Song added that the littoral combat ship’s programme did not seem to be hugely popular with the US Navy, but the maker of those vessels would probably like to sell them to US allies in the region.
“So to deploy them in the region could also be an advertising display,” he said.
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US secretary of defence Mark Esper confirmed the United States was conducting more patrols
Mr Song said it could be an “advertising display”
The change in the region comes as Beijing warned Donald Trump the US must “stop flexing its muscles” over the disputed region.
The warning came after US Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe met Monday in Bangkok.
The two ministers were attending a meeting of defence officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other countries.
Among the topics up for discussion were the ongoing political crisis in Hong Kong and the status of the south China Sea.
China continues to insist that the whole region up to the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan belongs to them despite the neighbouring countries protests.
In a sign that China will no longer passively countenance the presence of US warships, China announced that it was sending its new aircraft carrier to the region for training and research purposes.
Beijing claimed that the deployment of the carrier was not linked to recent events.
In a statement on its website, the People’s Liberation Army Navy spokesman Cheng Dewei said: “Training of the homemade aircraft carrier is a normal arrangement in the process of aircraft carrier construction, is not aimed at any specific target and has nothing to do with the current situation.”
Beijing has warned Trump America must stop flexing its muscles
An article in the state-run newspaper Global Times said the testing “will allow the aircraft carrier crew to become familiar with the sea area where it will often sail in the future.”
Ominously, the article hinted that the carrier might be stationed permanently at Sanya in the future due to its strategic location.
It said: “The South China Sea will be right at its doorstep, and not far from the island of Taiwan.”
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