Analysis: Taiwan Tensions Reveal Challenges for US Navy as Chinese Threat Grows

HONG KONG, Aug 5 (Reuters) – The long route of Tuesday’s flight by Nancy Pelosi over Borneo to Taipei and the complex passage of a US aircraft carrier through the South China Sea highlight the difficulties US forces now face against an army Chinese eager to flex his muscles over Taiwan.

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

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

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And they are sticking with that focus as the Chinese military launches live-fire exercises in the waters surrounding, and in some parts, Taiwanese territory, they say.

“We can’t control Pelosi’s travel, but we can control how we react,” 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 skirted the South China Sea, and its fortified islands, as it flew from Singapore on Tuesday, taking a longer route over the island of Borneo and the eastern side of the Philippines.

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

“From the way things are developing, we can see that the goal here is to avoid unmanaged escalations.”

After building facilities in the disputed Paracel and Spratlys archipelagos, Chinese coast guard ships, warships and aircraft routinely patrol the maritime heartland of Southeast Asia, frequently shadowing US and other navies.

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 quarter-century ago.

Back then, one aircraft carrier sailed through the Taiwan Strait while another maneuvered nearby to end days of Chinese missile launches and military exercises as Beijing protested Taiwan’s first direct presidential election.

More than half of the U.S. Navy’s currently deployed 111 battle force ships are now within the Japan-based Seventh Fleet’s sphere of responsibility that straddles the western Pacific and the Indian Oceans, as tracked by the independent US Naval Institute.

Deploying ships en masse off the Chinese coast is another matter, given China’s inventory of advanced cruise and ballistic missiles and its expansive surface fleet, regional security analysts say.

Four powerful ships – the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli and the guided missile cruiser USS Antietnam – are east of Taiwan, Reuters confirmed. Another assault ship, also carrying F-35 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 close to that formation.

The passage of Reagan’s task force was watched with particular attention by regional security analysts in the days leading up to Pelosi’s mission.

Radio Free Asia reported last month that it was due to call at the central Vietnamese port of Danang in July after patrols in the southern South China Sea near China’s fortifications in the Spratlys.

Diplomats familiar with their route said the strike group turned around and instead headed for a five-day stopover in Singapore beginning July 22.

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

Neither US nor Vietnamese officials have commented on the change, or why, but a US Navy official told Reuters this week that schedules “often change” without confirmation or notice.

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

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

“I think it shows some carefully calibrated deployments designed not to unnecessarily provoke China, even while making sure they move 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; Edited by Lincoln Fest.

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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