Navy Ops Rattle China Ahead of Trump Meeting with Xi Jinping

The Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Chancellorsville steams alongside the USS Ronald Reagan before a pass in review as part of the Republic of Korea International Fleet Review (IFR) 2018.(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brandon Martin)
The Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Chancellorsville steams alongside the USS Ronald Reagan before a pass in review as part of the Republic of Korea International Fleet Review (IFR) 2018.(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brandon Martin)

The Navy rattled China this week with two operations in disputed waters ahead of President Donald Trump's meeting this weekend with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 economic summit in Argentina.

On Monday, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser Chancellorsville conducted a freedom of navigation operation near the contested Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

On Wednesday, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer James B. Stockdale and the USNS oiler Pecos from the Military Sealift Command passed through the Taiwan Strait in the third such show of support for Taiwan this year, following similar passages by Navy ships in October and July.

Beijing's "One China" policy regards Taiwan as a wayward province to be reunited with China. It routinely protests ship passing through the 110-mile strait separating Taiwan from the mainland.

"We have expressed our concerns to the U.S." over the Navy ships' passage through the strait, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a news briefing in Beijing on Thursday. He said Taiwan's status is the "most important and sensitive issue" in relations with the U.S.

The Chancellorsville's appearance in the South China Sea came after the cruiser joined the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and the guided-missile destroyer Curtis D. Wilbur on a port call to Hong Kong last week in what was seen as a possible conciliatory move by China ahead of Xi's meeting with Trump.

The Chancellorsville "sailed near the Paracel Islands to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law," U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Nathan Christensen said in a statement.

On Thursday, Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said the Navy will continue to challenge China's claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea and elsewhere in the region.

China is "ignoring international law" and "other legitimate claims of smaller countries" on the rim of the South China Sea through its military buildup on artificial islands, Davidson said from Hawaii in a video conference to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

He accused China of carrying out a "sustained campaign to intimidate other nations" in the region and called China's "Belt & Road" initiative to extend its political and economic power beyond the region "pernicious."

On Saturday, Trump is expected to have dinner with Xi on the sidelines of the G20 economic summit in Buenos Aires. At the top of their agenda is the trade war between the two countries, in which the U.S. has slapped more than $200 billion in tariffs on China and China has responded with similar measures against the U.S.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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