US naval buildup in Indo-Pacific seen as warning to China

WASHINGTON (AP) - For the first time in nearly three years, three American aircraft carriers are patrolling the waters of the Indo-Pacific. This is a massive demonstration of naval forces in a region marked by tensions between the United States and China, and a sign that the Navy has recovered from the worst days of the coronavirus outbreak.
The unusual simultaneous appearance of the three warships, accompanied by cruisers, destroyers, fighter jets and other naval aircraft, is due to the US criticizing Beijing's response to the Corona virus outbreak, its efforts to gain greater control over Hong Kong and its campaign Militarization is escalating man-made islands in the South China Sea.
"There was some evidence in Chinese scriptures that the United States was badly hit by COVID-19, that military readiness was poor. Perhaps the United States is trying to signal China that it should not miscalculate," said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The Chinese will definitely use this as an example of provocation in the United States and as evidence that the United States is a source of instability in the region."
President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for dealing with the Corona virus outbreak himself, has condemned China for failing to adequately warn the world of the COVID-19 threat. The government has also decided to ban Chinese PhD students and researchers linked to the People's Liberation Army or other US security services.
The convergence of three carrier strike groups in the region is unusual due to the limited number of carriers and the fact that they frequently go through repair plans, port visits, training or deployments to other parts of the world. This week, however, the commanders of the Navy said they could use the timing, especially at this time of great power competition with China.
China is identified as the top security concern in the U.S. national defense strategy, and Pentagon leaders have been working to move more resources and military assets to the region to combat what they consider to be Beijing's growing economic influence and military power.
“The ability to have a strong presence is part of the competition. And as I always tell my boys here, you have to be there to win in the competition, ”said counter-administrator Stephen Koehler, operations manager at Indo-Pacific Command. “Porters and porter strike groups that are capitalized are phenomenal symbols of American naval power. I'm really excited that we currently have three of them. "
Speaking to The Associated Press from his Hawaii office, Koehler said China is slowly and methodically building military outposts in the South China Sea and putting missile and electronic warfare systems on them. The United States and other allies and partners in the region have stepped up operations near the man-made islands to try to slow China's development, but none of it seems to be working.
Koehler said that China recently used planes to fly to the Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands and are now operating from there.
On Thursday, the strike group's warships were spread across the Indo-Pacific. The USS Theodore Roosevelt and its strike group operate in the Philippine Sea near Guam. The USS Nimitz strike group is located in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of the United States. The USS Ronald Reagan has left the port in Japan and is operating south of it in the Philippine Sea. Naval commanders quickly pointed out that dozens of other naval vessels had operated in the Pacific, but the three strike groups put a certain sign of exclamation on the United States' commitment to the region and its allies.
The Roosevelt has just returned to service after spending more than two months in Guam and experiencing a massive COVID 19 outbreak in its crew. A small number of seafarers on the Nimitz and Reagan tested positive for the virus, which triggered quarantines and extensive new health and safety procedures that had to be implemented before the ships could be used.
During the mission, the daily life of seafarers on the ships and, to some extent, their operation at sea became affected by the virus and the new precautions they must take to ensure that the ships remain free from infection and can continue to operate , changed.
On board the Nimitz, counter administrator Jim Kirk said there have been no positive cases of the virus on the ship since launch, and he is confident that any changes have been made to keep it that way. On the Nimitz and the other Pacific ships, crew members are checked daily, wear masks when necessary, meal times have been extended to create more social distance, and certain routes have been set on the ship to prevent seafarers from clashing narrow corridors and stairs.
"When we set out to keep the watch, the message I have is that this is the end of the beginning," said Kirk, commander of Carrier Strike Group 11. "Now is the time to do our job to do." the best of our skills. "
Koehler said the ships would continue to work with allies and partners in the region, conduct exercises at sea, and patrol contested regions. However, an important change will be their ability to stop in foreign ports.
Visits to the port have been largely restricted, except to carefully pick up supplies when needed. Guam has so far been designated as the only safe haven for port stops in the Pacific, and seafarers have limited freedom to get to the pier and cannot move freely around the city. Naval leaders are trying to build other safe havens but have not yet approved them.
This is, "said Koehler," the new normal ". And he said there might not be three strike groups in the Pacific in the long term, but "we can do that if we want to."

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