Biden orders carrier to stay in South China Sea, but delays ICBM test

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is seen during a port call in Hong Kong on October 2, 2017.

Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will keep a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike group in the South China Sea longer than planned, in response to Chinese missile tests and escalating aggression around Taiwan, he said. the White House announced on Thursday.

At the same time, Biden will postpone a previously scheduled intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, test, a White House spokesperson said.

The twin announcements signal an approach that seeks to heighten US military vigilance in the region while simultaneously limiting opportunities for Beijing to designate any US action as a provocation for increased aggression against Taiwan and neighboring countries.

The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and its escort ships will remain in the South China Sea “a little longer than originally planned,” the council’s spokesman told the White House on Thursday. of national security, John Kirby.

The aim of the striking group’s extended stay in the region will be “to monitor the situation”, he said. He added that “the president felt it was the safest thing to do, to leave her and her escort ships there just a little longer.”

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group has been operating in the South China Sea since mid-July, according to the US military.

Kirby said the postponement of the Minuteman 3 ballistic missile test aims to demonstrate “responsible nuclear power behavior by reducing the risk of miscalculation” as China “engages in destabilizing military exercises around Taiwan”.

Still, the United States does not expect China to scale back its aggressive actions anytime soon.

“We expect more exercises, more warmongering and rhetoric, and we expect more incursions” into non-Chinese territories, he said.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing have risen dramatically over the past week, in part over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to travel to Taiwan with a delegation of congressional Democrats.

The White House and the Pentagon reportedly warned the powerful California lawmaker not to make the trip when she did, due to the potential for increased bilateral tensions.

Pelosi wrote in an op-ed that she believes China poses a serious threat to the independence of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a Chinese province. She said her trip was necessary to show American support for democracy in Taiwan and around the world.

But as Biden tries to balance a desire to flex American muscle in the South China Sea and not provoke further actions from Beijing, experts say the distinction could be lost on the Chinese government.

“China doesn’t want or need to convince itself that we are serious. And to parse between ‘serious’ and ‘provocative’ is like angels dancing on a pin,” said Andrew Mertha, director from the China Global Research Center at Johns Hopkins. School of Advanced International Studies.

“This ‘split the difference’ shows precisely the confusion and inconsistency that Beijing probably sees as some sort of deliberate and aggressively opaque strategy,” he said in an interview with CNBC.

“If cooler heads prevail behind the scenes – in Beijing and Washington – it will be a prelude to a shift to more sustained and substantial diplomatic engagement,” Mertha said.

Kirby stressed Thursday that key lines of communication between the United States and China are open, despite heightened tensions.

“We’re using these lines of communication, and I think you’ll see that in the days to come as well,” he said, a bit cryptically.

The White House did not immediately respond to an email asking for more details on what Kirby meant.

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