The South China Sea has been a maritime flashpoint for a long time. Communist China acts as though they own this sea, a claim disputed by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Indonesia. The United States has also historically challenged those claims with a number of close passes near some of the islands the ChiComs have claimed.
What will be going there is sending Communist China a big message: A Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. This will be the first visit since the fall of Saigon in 1975, which marked the end of the Vietnam War. The United States Navy has one such vessel, USS Ronald Reagan, forward-based in Japan.
The Chinese Communists have been engaging in a major buildup of naval assets to assert greater dominance in the disputed region. The People’s Liberation Army Navy began building its first Type 002 aircraft carrier earlier this month just after launching its first home-built aircraft carrier, the Type 001A. The Chinese Communists have been operating the Liaoning, a Russian Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier. The Chinese Communists have also constructed artificial island bases on some of the disputed territories in the South China Sea.
The announcement by Mattis came during a trip to Southeast Asia. Mattis had also visited Indonesia, where he witnessed a demonstration by Indonesian special forces units that included drinking snake blood, breaking bricks with their heads, and deploying from helicopters with dogs. While in Vietnam, Mattis also visited the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, where over 1,600 Americans from the Vietnam War are still not accounted for.
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