Tensions Rising in South China Sea

U.S. Navy ships | Image by AlejandroCarnicero/Shutterstock

Amid tensions between the United States and China after the U.S. shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps conducted joint training exercises in the South China Sea this weekend.

The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 11, whose flagship is the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, have been coordinating “integrated expeditionary strike force operations” there, the Japan-based U.S. Navy 7th Fleet said on Sunday, as reported by the Associated Press.

The drills referred to occurred on Saturday and involved ships, aircraft, and ground troops. The exercises were planned in advance, but the 7th Fleet did not disclose when the training began or if it has yet ended.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea, according to CNN. The PRC opposes any military action by another nation taking place there.

While the United States holds no official stance on who controls the South China Sea, it sends ships past Chinese bases in the Spratly Islands multiple times a year — to objections from the Chinese government.

Relations between the two nations have grown more tense since a suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down by U.S. military jets off the coast of South Carolina on February 4, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

According to the United States government, the balloon had equipment capable of collecting intelligence signals.

However, the Chinese government said the unmanned balloon was used for weather research and the decision to shoot down the balloon was both an overreaction and a violation of international norms.

Meanwhile, the United States worked to strengthen its alliance with the Philippines, whose own relationship with the PRC has been complicated.

On Monday, the China Coast Guard was accused by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) of temporarily blinding members of its crew with “a military-grade laser,” as The Dallas Express reported.

This alleged incident also occurred in the South China Sea, but in a portion designated as the West Philippine Sea by the Philippine government.

“On February 6, 2023, a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel with bow number 5205 directed a military-grade laser light at the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessel BRP MALAPASCUA (MRRV-4403) while supporting a rotation and resupply (RoRe) mission of the Philippine Navy (PN) in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea,” the PCG said in a statement posted on Facebook.

“The Chinese vessel also made dangerous maneuvers by approaching about 150 yards from the vessel’s starboard quarter,” according to the PCG.

However, China’s Foreign Ministry responded by alleging the Philippine ship “trespassed into the waters of Renai Reef without the permission of the Chinese side,” per CNN.

“The Chinese maritime police vessel defended China’s sovereignty and maritime order in accordance with China’s domestic law and international law,” according to spokesperson Wang Wenbin.

Wenbin declined to say what specific actions the Chinese vessel took, according to CNN.

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