4th July 2020 – (South China Sea) According to the Diplomat, on Wednesday, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) began exercises in the South China Sea focused around amphibious assault activities. Prior to the exercises, a PLAN amphibious assault ship was seen at Woody Island, the largest natural Chinese-held feature in the South China Sea and host to major military facilities in the Paracel Islands. The vessel, an apparent Type 071 amphibious transport dock, was seen in satellite imagery on 27th June. According to ship tracking data, the ongoing exercises not only involved the PLAN, but also the China Coast Guard. The exercises followed the announcement of a maritime exclusion zone southeast of China’s Hainan Island in the South China Sea by the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration (MSA).
The PLAN has carried out major military drills in waters off Hainan Island in the South China Sea regularly in the recent years and it normally announces maritime exclusion zones in doing so.
The apparent involvement of the China Coast Guard, a nominally civilian maritime law enforcement body, in naval drills comes as a novel development. It follows the approval of changes to the Chinese law governing the People’s Armed Police Force by the National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee earlier in June — the first such revisions in 11 years. The coast guard, as part of the People’s Armed Police Force, was deemed eligible to participate in wartime activities under the command of the Central Military Commission of China.
At this time when China-U.S. relations are turbulent, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has begun a five-day military training in the waters of the Xisha Islands since 1st of this month. The US military also sent two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea to conduct military exercises on Saturday (4th) during the US National Day, meaning that the two countries’ vessels were present rarely in the South China Sea at the same time. The US refused to disclose the specific location of the aircraft carrier training, emphasising that the US military exercise was not an act of retaliation towards China.
According to CNN, the US Navy will send two aircraft carriers and several accompanying warships to the South China Sea in the coming days to participate in a military exercise. The USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Groups are conducting dual carrier operations in the Philippine Sea and South China Sea,” said Lt. Joe Jeiley, a spokesman for the Seventh Fleet. “Operating two carrier strike groups in the Philippine Sea and South China Sea provides advanced training opportunities for our forces and provides combatant commanders with significant operational flexibility should those forces be called upon in response to regional situations.”The presence of two carriers is not in response to any political or world events. This advanced capability is one of many ways the U.S. Navy promotes security, stability, and prosperity throughout the Indo-Pacific.”
The exercise is long-planned but comes as China conducts military drills of its own in the area, near the contested Paracel Islands, exercises that have been criticized by the US and other countries. The Wall Street Journal first reported the carriers’ participation in the coming exercise.”America agrees with our Southeast Asian friends: The PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) military exercise in disputed waters of the South China Sea is highly provocative. We oppose Beijing’s unlawful claims. Period,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Friday. The Pentagon said in a statement Thursday that China’s “military exercises are the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbours in the South China Sea.”