In February, two US carrier strike groups sailed in the South China Sea and spent a week conducting dual-carrier drills in the region as a show of veiled defiance toward China.
Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (Carrier Strike Group 11), based around the USS Nimitz, and the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (Carrier Strike Group 9), based around the USS Theodore Roosevelt, met in the South China Sea as the former was returning to the US, while the later was just starting its deployment.
According to the Navy, the two carrier strike groups coordinated operations in the highly trafficked area and demonstrated the Navy’s ability to operate in challenging environments. The week-long drills also offered the two carrier strike groups and their crews the opportunity to work on their tactical and seamanship skills.
“Through operations like this, we ensure that we are tactically proficient to meet the challenge of maintaining peace and we are able to continue to show our partners and allies in the region that we are committed to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific. We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea that all nations enjoy under international law,” Rear Admiral Jim Kirk, the Nimitz strike group commander, said in a statement.
The Chinese didn’t offer any particular response to the drills.
South China Sea is important for several reasons, including natural resources, fishing, trade, and freedom of navigation, which is perhaps the most important point for the US.
To China, the South China Sea is important because of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Every country has an EEZ that extends to 200 nautical miles from its landmass. (It is important to distinguish between a country’s EEZ and its Territorial Sea, which is an up to 12 nautical miles area from land.)
According to the National Ocean Service, an EEZ offers a country sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving, and managing natural resources, whether living and nonliving, of the seabed and subsoil and the superjacent waters and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents, and winds.
But Beijing has been somewhat greedy with its EEZ demarcation. Citing some very small uninhabited islands, several of which China has literally constructed, the Chinese government is asserting a far bigger EEZ.
The Chinese Nine-Dash Line, an unrecognized line demarcating an area over which Beijing asserts sovereignty, violates no fewer than five other countries’ international recognized rights. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines reasonably assert that the Chinese Nine-Dash Line encroaches in various degrees in their respective EEZs.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has decried that the Chinese claims of sovereignty are legally baseless.