US and China in conflict over South China Sea

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China is trying to seize an island in the South China Sea in face of strong US naval presence. The U.S. and its allies seem to be making sure there are enough advanced F-35 stealth fighters in the South China Sea.

The U.S. Navy sent one of its Nimitz-class carriers into the disputed waters earlier this week, adding to its teeth in the region in the form of F-35C Lightning II stealth fighter jets. The carrier and its strike group are carrying out maritime security operations in the region. In addition to the Carl Vinson, the strike group also includes the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain, destroyer USS Chafee and combat ship USS Tulsa.

The US president does not want the competition to become an open conflict. Xi wants to reset bilateral relations. COVID-19, environment, North Korea and Afghanistan are possible areas of cooperation. The US Navy challenges the Chinese near the Spratly islands, which are the source of a dispute between China and other countries in the region.

On the ground however, the two powers are increasingly confrontational. On Wednesday, the US destroyer USS Benfold sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, near the Spratly Islands, claimed by China.

China’s territorial claims extend to almost the whole South China Sea, a position deemed without basis by an international court and rejected by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and partly by Indonesia, with US support.

Having a US warship sail near Mischief Reef is an open challenge in Beijing. The issue for Congress is whether the Administration’s strategy for competing strategically with China. Decisions that Congress makes on these issues could substantially affect U.S. strategic, political, and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere.

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