Joint exercises by the United States Navy and Marine Corps are being held in the South China Sea amidst the increased tensions with China over the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down over the United States. In exercises involving ships, aircraft, and ground forces, the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit engaged in “integrated expeditionary strike force operations” in the South China Sea, which is claimed virtually in its entirety by China.
The United States itself has taken no official position on the sovereignty over the South China Sea and its resources, though it has consistently acted to preserve freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed area, which has led to protests on these actions from China. Despite this lack of an official stance, the United States has been engaged in strengthening its defense alliance with the Philippines, another of the claimants to the disputed South China Sea, which as seen Chinese forces and ships gradually encroaching on islands and fisheries claimed by the former colony of the United States.
The recent increased tensions due to the Chinese balloon might well led to greater emphasis on deterring China is this part of the world, especially given the close ties not only with the Philippines but also Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. That last relationship in particular is cause for concern about a potential conflict between the United States and China. Since the end of the Chinese Civil War, the government in Beijing has claimed Taiwan as being an integral part of the mainland, and has thus acted to a degree to prevent meaningful diplomatic interaction and engagement with Taiwan in order to cement greater control over its future. With Xi Jinping continuing to consolidate power in China, and the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland one of the important goals of his government as well as a means to cement his legacy, the continued increasing tensions between the two strongest countries in the world might well raise fears of a new major war breaking out in the not to distant future.
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