By Atul Aneja
New Delhi, Jan 1 : The US has yet again reminded China that it will continue to push back against the Middle Kingdoms expansionism by sailing two of its formidable warships through the Taiwan strait, hours before a turbulent 2020 came to an end.
USS John S. McCain and USS Curtis Wilbur, steamed through the Taiwan Strait on New Year’s Eve, according to the U.S. Naval Institute. This was the 13th occasion in 2020 that US warships had passed through the Taiwan strait, which China claims as its own.
The US 7th Fleet described the passage as adhering to international law and demonstrating the American commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to the report.
Washington’s intent to dissuade China to change the status quo in Taiwan and elsewhere in the region became glaring since August. On August 12, the US deployed three B-2 stealth bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, in the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
These deployments took place when military tensions showed no signs of abating — Ladakh, on the India-China border, and Taiwan.
By deploying at the Indian Ocean island, which falls under the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), China was being sent an unambiguous signal-that Washington was committed to safeguard the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean, South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, under well-defined rules.
The deployment of the B-52 trio followed the earlier dispatch of six B-52 Stratofortress bombers in the archipelago.
In tune with the landing of the B-2 planes, the formidable US aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, had steamed into the South China Sea on August 14.
When these deployments, carrying enormous firepower, in the air and sea, are taken together, the multiple messaging to China is clear. In the South China Sea, the US was announcing that any Chinese attack and takeover of Pratas or Dongsha Islands of Taiwan was a red line.
This is not surprising. These Taiwanese islands have significant strategic value. They are located 310 kilometres southeast of Hong Kong betweenthe South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. All PLA Navy (PLAN) vessels must pass those islands before they can reach the Pacific Ocean, where they would be harder to track. The takeover of these islands by China will therefore significantly enhance Beijing’s capacity to project power far away from its shores.
To reinforce its readiness to confront China, the US has announced that F-16 planes that that will be exported to Taiwan, will be armed with Harpoon anti-ship missiles. On August 14, the day when USS Ronald Reagan sailed into the South China Sea, the Pentagon announced that Taiwan had signed a $62 billion deal for the latest version of F-16 planes.
Till the very fag end of the year, the US intent has been to deter China from crossing the Rubicon – of using military force to settle maritime disputes with its neighbours, including Taiwan. During the year, the US also stepped on the gas to impart greater coherence to security in the Indo-Pacific region, crowned by the Quad comprising the US, India, Japan and Australia to counter Chinese muscle flexing in the region. The effort peaked with and elaborate Malabar naval exercise where the quartet sent their frontline ships and equipment for drills in October in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean.
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