United States Navy Rear Admiral George Wikoff praised the “professionalism” of the Chinese navy while encountering them in disputed regions of the South China Sea.
Wikoff described encounters with the Chinese navy as “cordial” while the Aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan led the U.S. Navy’s Task Force 70 through the “nine-dash line” region of contested territories. The USS Ronald Reagan, one destroyer and two cruisers passed through the region China has claimed control of in a “freedom of navigation” exercise meant to contest the communist China’s encroachment, according to Bloomberg.
“They remain respectful in accordance with what we anticipate a professional would do, and we respond or initiate in kind when we believe that there is a situation,” Wikoff said. “It has been very cordial, and I think they have been very
professional is really what I’d like to emphasize on both sides.”
Wikoff’s assessment comes just two weeks after taking command of Task Force 70.
The USS Ronald Reagan supercarrier and the rest of the task force were bound for Singapore, passing by areas of the Malaysian Coast that China has eyed in its move to expand its territorial waters and assert control over maritime navigation.
Vietnam has also raised complaints against Chinese actions near their own coastline.
Beijing’s naval expansion, which it has described as a safeguard to its “inalienable” maritime territory, has prompted U.S. warnings of increased Chinese naval advancements.
United States Navy officials have taken particular notice of Chinese anti-ballistic missiles and unmanned drones, deemed by the U.S. Navy to act as “anti-access/area denial” countering U.S. strike capabilities in the region.
The U.S. Navy has conducted freedom of navigation missions since 2015, the most recent of which featured a U.S. guided-missile destroyer passing by the Paracel items which have been disputed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan.
Separate of Wikoff’s assessment, the Chinese Ministry of Defense has criticized recent U.S. Navy actions as “flexing its muscles in the region.”
Admiral Wikoff’s latest freedom of navigation exercise was also reportedly tailed by several Chinese warships, a point Wikoff did not deny despite his claim of the respectful nature of the Chinese Navy.
“We’re never surprised, ever, so make that very clear,” Wikoff said. He said his task force will remain “lethal and ready when the bell rings and the call comes to do so.”
The U.S. Navy’s continued enforcement over the disputed waters of the South China Sea may add a key dynamic the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.
Last week President Donald Trump announced an approach to a U.S. trade deal with China, but a final agreement with China has remained elusive despite months of talks.