Stars & Stripes: Positive trends greet Navy’s Asia deployments, but tensions at sea remain

By Stars and Stripes; YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — About 10,000 sailors and Marines have set sail for the Western Pacific during the past month, gearing up for multinational exercises and port visits that are as much about reassuring allies as they are about naval tactics. The scale of the deployments isn’t unprecedented, but it is a busy time in a part of the world that’s already well-known within the Navy for its grinding operations tempo. On June 26, the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and its 5,500 personnel departed Yokosuka. They will meet up at various points with six surface ships within its strike group, with a submarine presence likely lurking nearby. Two weeks earlier, the amphibious USS Bonhomme Richard and its strike group departed Sasebo Naval Base, and it has since embarked the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. The deployments are all part of routine plans developed over the past year, 7th Fleet officials told Stars and Stripes. They also show an eagerness of nations in the region to partner with the United States in light of China’s growing might — a reason the deployments are considered routine, according to Asia-Pacific analysts. While some positive signs have recently emerged in the U.S.-China military relationship, Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over international waters and its increasingly sophisticated weaponry mean that tensions in the region aren’t going away anytime soon. Japan, Australia, South Korea and much of Southeast Asia have either recently participated in exercises with the U.S. or are planning to this summer. Such allies are intent on finding ways to counter China’s military modernization — with America’s help. The U.S. updates its “C4I” — a host of command, intelligence and technological procedures — every year or two, and sea exercises help allies keep pace with the changes, said Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, who commands the USS George Washington Strike Group and the 7th Fleet’s battle force. While the U.S. has the most to offer in terms of capabilities, the Navy also learns from its partners. Montgomery cited South Korea’s special forces as an example. “They’re very good at taking on and defeating small craft,” Montgomery said. “That’s not something we do every day.” For smaller nations whose claims to islands in the South China Sea conflict with Beijing’s, military exercises with the U.S. are among the few tools they have to defend their perceived borders while maintaining vital economic links with China. “All of these nations don’t want to be put in a position of having to choose,” said professor Jeff Kingston, Asian studies director at Temple University, Japan. “Having the U.S. as a counterweight to the Chinese presence is welcome.” (Source)

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