This week, several sources reported that Chinese pilots and officers were ordered to act moderately toward U.S. planes and warships in and over the waters of the South China Sea, raising concerns about the position of both countries regarding the tensions in that area.
As Newsweek reported, in July two U.S. aircraft carriers, the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan, conducted simulations in the South China Sea as well as nighttime air reconnaissance missions in the vicinity of Guangdong and Fujian provinces.
Although the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted naval maneuvers and drills around Taiwan, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) military source assured the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post that CCP officers were ordered “not to fire the first shot.”
The source also said that if, for example, an incident like the one in Hainan in 2001, when a U.S. intelligence plane collided with a Chinese fighter plane, there would be even greater consequences today.
“Today, the PLA has developed many countermeasures. The Americans won’t be able to return in one piece if such an accident ever happens again,” the source said. And added, “We are very clear that we will respond with force only as the last resort, when everything else has failed.
According to Reuters, in the last 24 hours the U.S. Navy has reported in a statement that a group led by the USS Ronald Reagan conducted high-level flight operations and maritime stability exercises in the disputed South China Sea.
“Integration with our joint partners is essential to ensuring joint force responsiveness and lethality, and maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Joshua Fagan, Task Force 70 air operations officer aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.
The military exercises come amid tense relations between the United States and the CCP in the wake of the CCP Virus (coronavirus) pandemic.
The issue has raised the indignation of the Trump administration which has repeatedly pointed out as a result of the lack of transparency on the part of the Chinese Communist Party, leading to a gradual deterioration of relations.
In July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a harsh speech against the CCP’s authoritarianism, calling for countries aligned with the idea of democracy to unite against it. “The free world must triumph over this new tyranny,” he said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke by telephone on Aug. 6, with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe about the difficulties in the bilateral relations of the two countries in an effort to reduce tensions.
Esper had previously announced a trip scheduled for the end of the year to China in the spirit of “enhance cooperation on areas of common interest.”
Regarding the CCP’s announcements aimed at keeping escalating tensions over the South China Sea in check, Yinan He, an associate professor of international relations at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, said, “I suspect this order to the PLA was issued at or before the talks between the two defense ministers, but was deliberately revealed to the press now to add credibility to the recent call by Chinese diplomats to dial down tensions and reopen talks.”
“China initially turned its back to Esper’s request for a talk. Having realized how precarious the situation was turning, the CCP took multi-pronged action to mitigate the risk of an inadvertent military clash with the U.S.,” Yinan said, according to Newsweek.
According to the media, the White House is expected to maintain a rigid stance even in the run-up to the elections in November. Pompeo announced in July that it supports a 2016 International Court of Justice decision that indicates the CCP does not have a historic title to the South China Sea.