published: 2018-03-13 04:18:34
US carrier takes battle of influence to Beijing with Manila visit
The US has signalled a push-back against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, deploying a carrier battle group to The Philippines for a five-day visit — the first since Beijing accelerated its military build-up in the waters in 2014.
USS Carl Vinson — equipped with F18 Hornets, assault helicopters and surveillance aircraft — docked in Manila Bay at the weekend as part of maritime security operations designed to “enhance regional security and stability”, US authorities have said.
The visit comes a week after China sent a squadron of fighter jets in response to US guided-missile destroyer Hopper sailing within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal, which The Philippines and China claim as their own.
Carl Vinson lieutenant commander Tim Hawkins said at the weekend the US Navy had carried out routine air and sea patrols of the region for 70 years to promote security and guarantee the unimpeded flow of trade.
“International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing and we’re going to continue to do that,” he said. “We’re committed. We’re here.”
The Carl Vinson is expected to dock in Vietnam’s Da Nang harbour next month, the first time a US aircraft carrier has done so since the end of the Vietnam War.
China claims as its rightful territory 90 per cent of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Earlier this month aerial photographs appeared to show China had made significant progress in building air and naval bases on its man-made islands within the Spratly chain, a series of reefs, shoals and islands subject to competing territorial claims by China, The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
The photographs, obtained by Inquirer.net and said to have been taken between last June and December, show runways, hangars, control towers and multi-storey buildings on a number of reefs.
Philippines analyst Richard Heydarian predicted The Philippines and the US would seek to paint the US warship visit as a “routine manifestation of their bilateral alliance”.