The great power competition between China and the U.S. continued Tuesday as the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group sailed into the South China Sea for the first time this year, according to a U.S. Navy press release.
The strike group's aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh and the guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey. The group of vessels entered the heavily disrupted South China Sea waters on Tuesday to conduct a maritime security operation.
The Navy said, "upholding freedom of the seas in the South China Sea is vitally important where nearly a third of global maritime trade, roughly 3.5 trillion dollars, a third of global crude oil, and half of the global liquefied natural gas passes through the sea each year."
This comes vulnerabilities to global trade continue beyond narrow chokepoints as more than 200 Chinese vessels, mainly fishing vessels believed to be manned by China's maritime militia, have been causing havoc near the Philippines.
Earlier this year, the USS John S. McCain, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, was "expelled" by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) from the Paracel Islands in the heavily disrupted waters. PLA alleged, at the time, around February, the destroyer "trespassed" into China's territorial waters.
In April, the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier and its strike group sailed through the region as exclusive economic zones between the Philippine government and Chinese were in dispute.
The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is expected to conduct maritime security operations, "which include flight operations with fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises, and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units," according to the Navy.
Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group commander rear admiral Will Pennington said:
"The South China Sea is pivotal to the free flow of commerce that fuels the economies of those nations committed to international law and rules based order.
"It is both a privilege and a pleasure to work alongside our allies, partners, and joint service teammates to provide full spectrum support to key maritime commons and ensure all nations continue to benefit from a free and open Indo-Pacific region."
Here's the latest U.S. naval deployment map from Stratfor (as of June 10).
There's more here than meets the eye as a great power competition continues to brew between both countries.
Over the past year, the U.S. has increased aerial patrols, and U.S. Navy warship sails through the disrupted region and near and through the Taiwan Strait, an exercise aimed at angering Beijing. Such "close encounters" and U.S. flyovers and sail through in the South China Sea and near Taiwan become more frequent during the tail-end of the Trump presidency.
It's only a matter of time before PLA officials or Chinese state-run media denounces the latest U.S. sailing. So should we expect the PLA to try to expel the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group from the heavily disputed waters?