US navy plans major show of strength in South China Sea as warning to Beijing


Freedom of navigation operation will take place amid rising tensions and near-collision between USS Decatur and Chinese vessel

The United States Pacific Fleet has drawn up a plan for a major show of force as a warning to China that will indicate its determination to counter Beijing’s military activity, it was reported on Thursday amid rising tension over the disputed South China Sea.

The plan would see planes and ships passing close to Chinese-claimed waters in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait in a freedom of navigation operation, CNN reported, citing several unnamed US defence officials.

The proposal means US ships and aircraft will be operating close to Chinese forces and is expected to trigger a strong reaction from Beijing.

China’s defence ministry did not immediately comment on the report, but a Chinese diplomatic observer said that by expanding its operations from the South China Sea to the Taiwan Strait the US was escalating the confrontation.

The observer also predicted that China would step up its military presence in both areas.

The proposal is being driven by the military but CNN noted that carrying it out it in early November when the US midterm elections are taking place could have political implications for the Trump administration if the US troops are challenged by China.

Beijing has previously criticised freedom of navigation operations by the US in the South China Sea as an infringement of its territorial sovereignty.

Tensions are running high between the US and Chinese militaries over the disputed waters, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

On Sunday, a Chinese destroyer nearly collided with the USS Decatur, which was carrying out a freedom of navigation operation and sailing close to the China-claimed Gaven Reef.