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Thayer Consultancy

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Background Brief: U.S. Carrier Strike Groups in East and South China Seas Carlyle A. Thayer October 4, 2012

[client name deleted] Tensions between China and its neighbors still exist but seem to have moved from the South China Sea to the East China Sea. In the latest development, a U.S. armada is now dispatched to the East China Sea (the USS George Washington Strike group) and the South China Sea (USS John C. Stennis Strike Group), with the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious assault ship, with about 2,000 US Marines in the West Philippine Sea. Question: How do you assess these deployments? Are they intended to exert pressure on China, which is in dispute now with Japan, and still in disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines? What is the significance of the presence of the USS John C. Stennis and the USS Bonhomme Richard in the South China Sea? Business as usual or something more? ANSWER: The United States Navy is doing what it has always done since the Second World War, it is contributing to regional stability in strife prone areas through its presence. This mission is also part of the U.S. strategy of rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific and reassuring U.S. allies and strategic partners. The U.S. is conducting long-scheduled exercises with the Philippines. It is also responding to Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea through the creation of Sansha City prefecture and a military garrison, the acknowledgement by China that it is conducting combat ready patrols, and erection of a barrier across the mouth of Scarborough Shoal. These actions drew an unprecedented public rebuke by the U.S. State Department on August 3rd. The Chinese media retorted shut up, the U.S. its actions is replying put up. Finally, the U.S. is matching its words with deeds in its relations with Japan. Earlier the U.S. confirmed that the Senkaku islands were covered by the Mutual Defense Treaty with Japan. Now the U.S. is showing its presence at a critical time when China is undergoing a power shift in its leadership. The presence of a U.S. carrier battle group in the East China Sea is to deter any rash action by Chinese nationalists to provoke an incident with Japan. Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, U.S. Carrier Strike Groups in East and South China Seas, Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, September , 2012. Thayer Consultancy Background Briefs are archived and may be accessed at: http://www.scribd.com/carlthayer.