Analysis: Tensions in Taiwan reveal challenges for US Navy as Chinese threat grows

HONG KONG, Aug 5 (Reuters) – Nancy Pelosi’s long journey on Tuesday over Borneo to Taipei and the complex passage of a U.S. aircraft carrier through the South China Sea highlight the difficulties that American forces are currently facing in the face of a Chinese army eager to flex its muscles on Taiwan.

US military officials repeatedly speak of ‘routine’ patrols to support a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, but realities are increasingly harsh amid the worst tensions in Taiwan since 1996, diplomats, officials say. military attachés and security analysts.

US officials told Reuters this week they did not want to escalate matters with unnecessarily provocative deployments before House Speaker Pelosi – a staunch critic of China and the third-highest ranking US politician – lands. in Taipei on Tuesday in a US Air Force plane.

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And they’re sticking to that approach as the Chinese military launches live-fire drills in the waters surrounding, and in parts of, the territory of Taiwan, they say.

“We can’t control Pelosi’s trip, but we can control our reaction,” a defense official said.

The US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters about its actions and strategies.

The plane carrying Pelosi and her congressional delegation cruised along the South China Sea – and its fortified islands – as it departed from Singapore on Tuesday, taking a longer route over the island of Borneo and the east coast of the Philippines. .

“The natural flight path would be over the South China Sea, but the place is now bristling with radar, sensors and jamming equipment on Chinese island bases, so it’s something to avoid in the Pelosi context,” said Singapore-based security consultant Alexander Neill. .

“The way things are going, we can see the goal here is to avoid unmanaged escalations.”

Having built facilities in the disputed archipelagos of the Paracels and Spratlys, Chinese Coast Guard ships, warships and planes routinely patrol the maritime heartland of Southeast Asia, frequently shadowing US navies and others.

China’s military modernization in recent decades means some security analysts say it would be unthinkable for US aircraft carriers to challenge Chinese forces in the seas around Taiwan as they did a while ago. a quarter century.

At the time, an aircraft carrier crossed the Taiwan Strait while another maneuvered nearby to end the days of Chinese missile launches and military exercises as Beijing protested Taiwan’s first direct presidential election.

More than half of the US Navy’s 111 combat force ships currently deployed are now in the Japan-based Seventh Fleet sphere of responsibility that straddles the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, according to US Naval tracking. independent institute.

The massive deployment of ships to Chinese shores is another matter, given China’s inventory of advanced cruise and ballistic missiles and its large surface fleet, according to regional security analysts.

Four powerful ships – the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli and the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietnam are in eastern Taiwan, Reuters confirmed. Another assault ship – which also carries F-35 attack fighter jets – is in a nearby port in Japan. Read more

Some security analysts say it was very likely that US attack submarines were also near such a formation.

The passage of the Reagan Strike Group was particularly closely watched by regional security analysts in the days leading up to Pelosi’s mission.

Radio Free Asia said last month it was due to call at Vietnam’s central port of Danang in July after patrols in the southern South China Sea near Chinese fortifications in the Spratleys.

Diplomats familiar with its itinerary said the strike group had turned around and instead headed for a five-day stopover in Singapore from July 22.

The move came as China launched exercises between July 16 and July 20 surrounding its bases further north in the Paracel Islands, east of Danang and covering 100,000 km2, according to statements by local maritime authorities.

Neither U.S. or Vietnamese officials have commented on the change, or the reason for it, but a U.S. Navy official told Reuters this week that schedules “change often” without confirmation or notice.

The Reagan then sailed through the narrow sea lanes of the Philippine archipelago before reaching waters west of Taiwan, according to an official US Navy Facebook page.

Collin Koh, a Singapore-based security specialist, said the passage through the San Bernadino Strait in the Philippines by an aircraft carrier was unusual, instead of sailing north between the Philippines and China’s southern coast.

“I think it shows carefully calibrated deployments, designed to not unnecessarily provoke China while ensuring they get to where they need to be.”

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Reporting by Greg Torode in Hong Kong and Idrees Ali in Washington; additional reporting by Marius Zaharia; Edition by Lincoln Feast.

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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