Yesterday, three naval ships of China's Nanhai Fleet arrived at the port of Sanya, Hainan province, for annual military exercises in the South China Sea and neighboring waters.
The missile destroyer Hefei, the missile frigate Sanya and the supply ship Honghu will later meet with the Lanzhou and Guangzhou missile destroyers and the missile frigate Yulin which is currently stationed in a different area. The ships will operate in the South China Sea zone east of the Indian Ocean and west of the Pacific Ocean. Dozens of helicopters and special forces will also be involved. In addition, naval aviation and garrisoned forces on the Xisha and Nansha Islands, along with the naval forces of the Beihai fleet, will be mobilized. The maneuvers are aimed at improving the combat readiness and coordination of ships, aircraft, and other forces in the relevant area.
The maneuvers are obviously China’s response to US attempts to strengthen its military presence in the region and make gestures of force. Earlier, the US held a number of collaboratives exercises with South Korea and Japan in close proximity China. The region was also visited by the US Minister of Defense along his extended tour of the regions. South Korea’s militarization and the US’s further plans to expand Washington’s military presence has caused a negative reaction on the part of Beijing.
A few days ago, China rejected a US request to board the US aircraft carrier John Stennis and escort the ship and its companions into Hong Kong port. This incident was subsequently discussed by the United States Congress' House Armed Services Sub-Committee on Seapower. In addition, the United States believes that Russia's methods (aircraft maneuvers near US ships) provide an example of how China might begin to pressure the United States.
In February 2016, China deployed two batteries of eight surface-to-air missile launchers as well as a radar system on Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island chain. The HQ-9 system, which has a range of 125 miles (200 kilometers), can provide considerable coverage given that it is deployed over open water with minimal obstructions to its detection range. This island, controlled by China but also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, is part of current disputes in which the US has actively involved itself.
As China's economic growth directly threatens the hegemony of the US, Washington has increasingly forged the image of a "Chinese threat" and manipulated its regional satellites. The conflict over the disputed islands in the South China Sea plays into the hands of the United States for increasing its military capacity and deploying new military bases.
China, for its part, has continued its peaceful economic expansion to the south without imposing any requirements upon potential partners.
At the same time, the United States understands that the bulk of the traffic of world trade passes through Southeast Asia, especially the South China Sea. US geo-strategists have dubbed this body of water the Heart Sea, an obvious analogy with the world’s continental Heartland (Russia-Eurasia) deemed by Halford Mackinder. Hence the importance attached by the US to establishing a permanent military and political presence in this location to continue monitoring global maritime transport.