Military Capabilities

US unfazed by Beijing’s capabilities in South China Sea, reiterates commitment to regional partners

17 October 2019

An F/A-18 approaching USS Ronald Reagan for a full-stop landing after flight operations in the South China Sea. Source: IHS Markit/Ridzwan Rahmat

Key Points

  • The USN is not intimidated by Beijing's latest deployments in the South China Sea and has reiterated its commitment to partners in the region
  • The assurance comes against the backdrop of a US Congressional Research Service report that described China's navy as the first such threat posed since the Cold War

The People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN's) latest capabilities do not intimidate Washington and the US Navy (USN) remains committed to fly, sail, and operate in international waters in accordance with prevailing maritime laws - even in areas claimed by Beijing.

This oft-repeated commitment was reiterated again by Rear Admiral George Wikoff during an interview with reporters on board the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) on 16 October.

Based on distance and flight-time calculations deduced by Jane's while on board the vessel, Ronald Reagan was likely sailing through China's unilaterally declared 'nine-dashed-line' demarcation at the time of the interview.

"Things are clearly different here," said Rear Adm Wikoff as he pointed towards the horizon from Ronald Reagan 's bridge. "I was out here almost 20 years ago and [China] had different capabilities [then]," said the admiral in response to questions on the types of equipment that Beijing is believed to have been progressively deploying into the disputed region.

"That said, I slept very well last night, I slept very well the night before, and I will sleep very well as we transit back through the South China Sea [SCS]," the admiral, who assumed the duties of Commander, Task Force 70, and Carrier Strike Group Five in September 2019.

Ronald Reagan was accompanied by the Ticonderoga-class cruisers USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS McCampbell during the transit through the SCS towards Singapore, where it was scheduled to make a port call.

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